Solid pitching is carrying Phillies' drastic improvement

Gelb: The Phillies Most Encouraging Sign
Gelb: The Phillies Most Encouraging Sign

The Phillies' 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon behind a dominating performance by 22-year old Vincent Velasquez was a perfect symbol of why the team is back at the .500 mark and showing improved competitiveness thus far in the 2016 season.

The performance also highlighted why the Phils are only a .500 team, and will struggle to get much above that mark, possibly even to maintain that level for very long here in the early stages of their rebuilding program.

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Velasquez tossed the first complete game of his professional career, and the shutout was the third produced by the pitching staff in these first 10 games. As shown in this Tweet put out following yesterday's game by Comcast SportsNet's Corey Seidman, that staff is putting up some league-leading numbers to date.


Velasquez has yet to allow a run of any type over 15 innings in which he has allowed just six hits and has a 25/3 K:BB ratio. In his first two starts, Jerad Eickhoff has a 1.50 ERA, and has allowed just nine hits over 12 innings with a 12/2 K:BB ratio.

Jeremy Hellickson has a 1.54 ERA, having allowed just six hits in 11.2 innings with an 11/1 K:BB ratio. Aaron Nola has allowed just 10 hits in 14 innings with a 17/0 K:BB ratio.

The bullpen, much maligned and rightfully so following the season's first four games, all losses, has recovered wonderfully led by surprise closer Jeanmar Gomez. Seen as the perfect swingman, instead Gomez has, at least for now, solidified that closer spot by earning Saves in his first four opportunities. He has a 1.80 ERA, and has allowed just three hits over five innings.

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Also strong thus far out of the pen have been Hector Neris, who has allowed no runs and just one hit over his first 4.2 innings across five appearances. He has a strong 6/1 K:BB ratio. Lefty Brett Oberholtzer has a 2.70 ERA and a 5/1 K:BB ratio over 3.1 innings.

David Hernandez, who could still end up as the longer term closer in the end, has now registered five consecutive scoreless outings since allowing three earned runs in an Opening Day meltdown at Cincinnati.

But with all the quite obvious improvement across the pitching staff, the offense continues at an unacceptable pace. To date, the Phillies have scored just 29 runs over these first 10 games, a 2.9 runs-per-game pace that ranks 12th of the 15 teams in the National League.

The current run-scoring pace lags behind even that of a year ago, nearly a full run behind the 2015 season, when the club finished just 27th in all of Major League Baseball with a 3.86 runs-per-game average. This current pace would have put them well at the bottom of the MLB rankings a year ago.

Not only is the club just 12th in the NL in runs scored, but they are also just 12th in stolen bases and walks. That is really going to make things difficult as the season moves along, should those trends continue.

The Phillies do not possess much power in their current lineup, with only Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard as consistent longball threats. They are seventh in the league in homers, but five of the team's seven dingers have come off the bats of those two power sources.

There are three positions in particular where the Phillies are receiving little or nothing as far as offensive production is concerned. At catcher, Cameron Rupp is hitting for just a .217/.217/.304 slash line with no homers or RBI across his first 23 plate appearances. Carlos Ruiz has a home run, but has just two other hits over his first 16 plate appearances.

At shortstop, Freddy Galvis is at a .182/.200/.303 slash line with just two extra-base hits and not a single stolen base attempt over his first 35 plate appearances of the season.

The corner outfield spots, places where every contending MLB team receives production, have given the Phillies none. Peter Bourjos has 31 plate appearances with just a .172/.200/.310 slash line, and despite possessing good speed, he has attempted no stolen bases. Cedric Hunterand Tyler Goeddel have just one extra-base hit, a homer by Hunter, over their 36 combined plate appearances.

The punchless Phils have tried to swipe a bag just eight times thus far over these first 10 games, and the results are ugly. Two of those attempts even came from players who will not and should not be running much, Ruiz and Darin Ruf.

The speedy Cesar Hernandez has run four times, but been caught on three of those attempts. Hernandez, center fielder Odubel Herrera, and utility player Emmanuel Burriss own the Phils' three successful stolen bases to this point.

There are no easy answers for these Phillies, considering the talent of the players currently on the big league roster. An influx of talent from the minors later in the summer could inject some offensive spark, with the bats and legs of J.P. Crawford,Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and Andrew Knapp. But barring major injuries, those players are not likely to see Citizens Bank Park until at least the summer months.

For now, the best that Phillies fans, and that outstanding pitching staff, can hope is that the Phils decide to push the running game more, finding success in producing runs in that manner. That, or some of those listed above have to begin hitting much more consistently, while Franco and Howard continue to provide real power.


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