Sometimes modern baseball analytics can seem a little intimidating. Like you need a cryptographer, a calculator and a good grasp of calculus to understand what it all means. Well, here’s a statistic that’s really easy to understand:
Phillies pitching has allowed five or more runs in 10 of the team’s last 14 games.
That’s not good.
The rotation’s earned run average in that stretch is 6.14.
That’s concerning. Especially with the postseason scheduled to begin exactly three weeks from Tuesday night’s 7-6, extra inning loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Even more especially for a team that went to the World Series last season and has its eye on reclaiming what owner John Middleton once memorably referred to as “my bleeping trophy” this time around.
But what’s really toss-and-turn-all-night scary is that Zack Wheeler, who has been the unquestioned ace of the staff all season, was tagged for 6 runs on 7 hits – three of them home runs – in his 5 innings.
“This one’s on me,” he said. “I put us behind the eight ball a little bit and we had to fight back. I’ve got to do better. They fouled a lot of balls off. I didn’t have my great stuff, was just kind of grinding through it.”
He also made it clear he wasn’t thrilled with home plate umpire Edwin Moscoso’s strike zone.
“That with some missed calls led to a high pitch count,” he continued. “It’s going to happen, but it’s always tough. Especially against a lineup like this. You just have to grind through it and try to make quality pitches.”
Understand that barring a calamity, something on the order of space aliens invading Citizens Bank Park or the sun rising in the West and setting in the East, Wheeler will be the Phillies Game 1 starter on October 3, venue and opponent to be determined.
Well, something less apocalyptic could force a change. Like if the race tightens to the point that manager Rob Thomson is forced to use his ace to try to nail down the top spot in the wild card standings and the first-round home field advantage that comes with it. But you can bet the ranch that if the Phils have their druthers, it will be Wheeler on the mound that day.
In fact, if the Phillies keep him on an every-fifth-game schedule for the rest of the regular season, he’s perfectly lined up to start the playoff opener.
The rest of the pitching picture is far less clear.
The Phillies had been using a six-man rotation with the intention to contract that to the conventional five after Monday’s doubleheader. Thomson wasn’t ready to discuss exactly what that will look like, but all indications are that righthander Michael Lorenzen and lefthander Cristopher Sanchez are the most likely to be impacted.
Both have experience pitching out of the bullpen. Both have already exceeded their previous career highs in innings pitched.
Asked directly about the possibility about whether Lorenzen could strengthen the bullpen, the manager said: “We haven’t even talked about that with him. But, yeah, it’s crossed my mind. Same thing with Sanchez. You throw one of those guys in the bullpen, or at some point maybe both of them, it becomes a pretty strong bullpen.”
Another potential wrinkle would be to piggyback the two starters, a possibility that’s been openly contemplated.
NOTES ON A SCORECARD
The Phillies loss gave the Cubs a chance to pull within a half game of the top spot in the NL wild card race. But Chicago lost at Colorado, so the Phils margin remains a game-and-a-half.
Reliever Yunior Marte, who was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley between games of Monday’s doubleheader, was working on a 10.1-inning scoreless streak at the time of his most recent promotion. Marte pitched 1.1 scoreless innings Tuesday night and stranded an inherited runner.
Braves RHP Spencer Strider (16-5, 3.83) vs. Phillies LHP Cristopher Sanchez (2-3, 3.26) Wednesday night at 6:40.