The Phillies are back tonight after a day off, the first of five this month as they have more off days in August than in any other month this season. It should be a neat weekend at Citizens Bank Park as Shane Victorino will retire Friday, Roy Halladay and Pat Gillick will enter the Wall of Fame on Saturday, and the 2008 World Series champions will return to South Philly to be honored before Sunday's game. And the Phillies play four times against the Marlins. It's a golden opportunity to increase their first-place lead.
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Gabe Kapler said he had "a really fun dive" last week into Nick Pivetta's statistics a day after the pitcher allowed five runs in six innings against the Reds.
"I think there's a lot to get excited about there. A lot to still be very optimistic about," Kapler said after Pivetta's ERA increased to 4.85. "I know that there is more external concern, but internally, we are very, very confident in Nick Pivetta and his performance thus far."
Kapler's positive outlook in Pivetta is steeped in the pitcher's xFIP, which at 3.25 is the lowest among Phillies starters and the 14th lowest in baseball. Pivetta's xFIP is slightly better than Justin Verlander's and Aaron Nola's. It ranks just behind Zack Greinke's and Corey Kluber's.
So what does that mean? xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It a stat that approximates pitchers' ERAs based on what they can control: strikeouts, walks, hits by pitches, and fly balls allowed. The formula includes a calculation of the league's average home-run-per-fly-ball ratio, and FanGraphs considers xFIP to be a better representation of a pitcher's performance than ERA.
"What that number attempts to do is compare the amount of fly balls that Nick is giving up vs. the amount of fly balls that the league is giving up and then subsequently the home runs that he's giving up vs. the home runs the league is giving up," Kapler said. "So it's not necessarily about how far the balls are travelling but about fly-ball average and home-run average."
A good xFIP meant little when the Reds homered twice on Pivetta's hanging sliders. But that stat is something the Phillies can hang their hope on as they choose to ride Pivetta for the final two months of a pennant race. He struck out 12 in those five innings against the Reds. There is no denying that he has talent. It is just a matter of limiting mistakes. And that xFIP might be more than just a reason for hope.
"It's a really short list. It's 15 deep. It's 15 of the best pitchers in baseball, and he's on that list with that group," Kapler said. "So what we're trying to do is just limit those moments of big damage, big contact."
The Phillies chose to put their faith in their starting rotation as they decided against adding any starters at the trade deadline. Scott Lauber writes how the young starters are on pace for career highs in innings, and Jake Arrieta shares what his advice is for them.
Adam Jones was almost a Phillie. The Phillies and Orioles neared a deal this week to send the outfielder to Philadelphia before Jones used his service-time rights to turn it down. "When players walked out years ago and walked the picket lines and stuff, they did that for reasons like this," Jones told the Baltimore Sun. "I earned this and it's my decision. I don't have to explain it to nobody. It's my decision. Thank you."
Cole Hamels made his debut with the Cubs on Wednesday night, and pitched five innings, struck out nine and allowed no earned runs in a 9-2 win over the Pirates. The Cubs have the best record in the National League, and it's possible to imagine a scenario in which Hamels starts for the Cubs in a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park ."Everybody is focused, having a good time," Hamels told the Chicago Tribune of his new team. "You lose, they know how to bounce back, keep it positive. And when they win, they make it that much sweeter."
Tonight: Nick Pivetta faces Marlins rookie Pablo Lopez, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Shane Victorino retires before Vince Velasquez faces Trevor Richards, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Zach Eflin faces Jose Urena and Roy Halladay and Pat Gillick get honored, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola pitches the series finale and the Phils salute the 2008 champs, 1:35 p.m.
The 2008 Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park this weekend and celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their title. So what did that team look like at the beginning of August? The Phils that year started the month with a one-game lead in the National League East after winning their final five games of July. The current Phillies begin August with a half-game lead. Through 107 games, the 2008 Phillies were 58-49. The current Phillies are 59-48. We'll see how similar they are in two months.
Question: If Roman Quinn keeps hitting wouldn't it help the offense and bench to play him in left field and move Hoskins to first base? That puts Carlos Santana on the bench which would greatly increase the bench strength. Santana has not been the addition the Phillies hope for, batting under .220 and being just average defensively. – emailed question from David W.
Answer: First, let me clear the record. I wrote yesterday that the Phillies won't have a DH the rest of the year. They obviously will when they visit Toronto later this month. Thanks to James L. for pointing that out.
Now for today, we received quite a few questions about Carlos Santana. There's always going to be high expectations once a team signs a player to a $60 million deal. So Phillies fans have a right to be a bit disgruntled when they see Santana batting cleanup with a .214 average. But more important than average are Santana's OPS and walk rate, both of which decreased in July as Santana struggled.
He finished the month batting just .189 with a .627 OPS and 19 walks in 115 plate appearances. That followed a June of Santana's batting .235 with a .853 OPS and 28 walks in 115 plate appearances. Santana's average will never be high, but the OPS he had in June is what the Phillies need from him. He's too important to the lineup to put on the bench. He's pretty much limited to first base, so Quinn is a much more versatile option off the bench than Santana. Quinn can be a pinch-runner, a pinch-hitter, or a defensive substitute at four positions.