It is my pleasure, as always when the Cubs meet the Phillies, to turn this space over to Liz Roscher of our SB Nation Phillies site The Good Phight, to tell us a bit about her team.
Hello, BCB readers. It is I, Liz Roscher, from The Good Phight. I took a trip through the archives and discovered that this is the seventh series preview I’ve done for BCB. I started back in July 2015, which I’m bringing up for no particular reason, and since then I’ve spent several thousands of words telling you about some pretty putrid Phillies teams. That 2015 team I mentioned? They narrowly missed losing 100 games that year, and the 2016 and 2017 versions of the Phillies were only minimal improvements.
But that’s all over now. Yes, I know I’ve said that before, but I was wrong and an idiot. I said that a year ago, and a shockingly competent April fooled me into thinking that a team that employed Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph could be mediocre. Who are those guys? It doesn’t matter anymore. Because it’s really, really over now. This is the best Phillies team in literally six years.
There are a lot of new faces, and I’ve already wasted a lot of words talking about none of them, so let’s dive in.
Sadly, with Jake Arrieta pitching Sunday, he won’t be starting during this series. Instead, the Cubs will see the other best pitchers in the Phillies’ rotation, and one other guy. The other guy is Zach Eflin, and he’s Tuesday’s starter. He started strong, but has fallen off a Wile E. Coyote cliff of late. Past him, it’s Aaron Nola, one of the best pitchers in the National League, and Nick Pivetta, the return in the Jonathan Papelbon trade who is having a breakout season. I feel like anytime Nick Pivetta is mentioned in a positive light, his name should be followed with “... who was traded to the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon” just so everyone knows how unbelievable it is, and we can all take a second or two to laugh at the Nationals for being so desperate for a closer in 2015 that they agreed to trade for a guy who would later strangle the single best player their franchise has ever produced.
There are just two relievers worth mentioning. If you see Hector Neris, get happy, because he will probably give you a few runs. If you see Seranthony Dominguez, a name that is really, really fun to say, get sad, because this guy is a beast. In 13⅔ innings, he’s allowed just two hits, no runs, and struck out 15. I’m excited to see him face off against some really dynamic hitters, like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. Dominguez isn’t afraid of a challenge, and many Cubs hitters aren’t either. Most of the Phillies pitching staff, starters and relievers, are capable of sitting down a lineup full of offensive threats. And since the Phillies have seemingly forgotten how to hit a baseball (more on that in a moment), they’re the only thing holding this team together. But there’s also some pretty, pretty pitching on this team. Watch Aaron Nola start this week and tell me he doesn’t get you hot and bothered. (I’m not kidding, tweet at me and tell me. Team affiliation doesn’t matter when it comes to Aaron Nola love.)
I’ll give you a few highlights of the offense.
Kidding! Well, mostly. The Phillies are in the middle of an offensive drought (get excited, Cubs pitchers), but you should meet the cast of characters anyway. I’ll give you the highlights. There are old faces, like Odubel Herrera. There’s less bat flipping this year, but here’s proof that he’s still fun to watch: he recently had to start wearing a helmet with one of those C-shaped face guards, because his helmet kept spinning off when he took swings at the plate.
Rhys Hoskins is sadly on the disabled list, but hopefully by the time the Phillies hit Chicago the swelling on his face will have gone down. He got smacked in the jaw by a foul ball, and he looked like he had the mumps for a little bit there.
Nick Williams looks like an actual Greek god, his face is just perfect. Enjoy him and the majesty of his entire… self. Aaron Altherr gets a mention solely because his Twitter-only nickname is the Rhineland Rocket, because he was born in Germany and once could hit a baseball. If the Phillies as a group have forgotten how to hit, Altherr has super duper really really really forgotten.
This is also your first time meeting Scott Kingery, the Phillies “super-utility” guy. He’s young and struggling but he plays with a lot of energy. He’s a second baseman playing at shortstop and boy, is it an adventure. Actual shortstop J.P. Crawford is going to be back soon, because if he’s not I’ll actually die.
And whatever the Cubs do, they shouldn’t run when Jorge Alfaro is behind the plate. He’s got an arm like a canon and doesn’t mess around.
The Phillies are a young team, and a team that’s growing and learning. They’re interesting and fun. Those are all words that I didn’t use to describe them in any of the six previous previews I’ve written for BCB. A few weeks ago, they gave me the gift of being in first place for 20 hours. I’ve run The Good Phight since January 2013, and that was the first time the Phillies had been alone in first place. That’s 1,972 days.
27 pitchers in major-league history have defeated at least 29 of the 30 teams. Jake Arrieta has defeated 28 — he still lacks wins against the Cubs and Mariners. And he won’t pitch in this series, so he’ll have to wait until late August, when the Cubs go to Philadelphia, for his chance to defeat his former team.
Tuesday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (4-4, 3.19 ERA, 1.064 WHIP, 4.41 FIP) vs. Zach Eflin, RHP (1-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.308 WHIP, 3.82 FIP)
Wednesday: Jose Quintana, LHP (6-4, 4.30 ERA, 1.415 WHIP, 4.44 FIP) vs. Aaron Nola, RHP (7-2, 2.18 ERA, 0.932 WHIP, 2.63 FIP)
Thursday: Tyler Chatwood, RHP (3-4, 4.02 ERA, 1.733 WHIP, 4.95 FIP) vs. Nick Pivetta, RHP (4-4, 3.48 ERA, 1.145 WHIP, 2.88 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Tuesday: 7:05 p.m. CT, WGN
Wednesday: 7:05 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago Plus
Thursday: 1:20 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago
Here’s one prediction I am almost 100 percent certain will happen: The Cubs will produce and play a video tribute to Jake Arrieta on the video boards at Wrigley before Tuesday’s game. I expect Jake will receive a rousing ovation, which will be well-deserved.
About this series: On May 27, 2016 the Phillies came into Wrigley Field with a record of 26-21, just two games out of first place in the N.L. East. I told everyone I knew before the series began: “They’re not that good.” That turned out to be right, the Cubs swept them and the Phillies wound up losing 91 games that year.
The 2018 Phillies enter this series 31-26 and three games out of first place. They’re improved over the 2016 version. But the Cubs are still better, and are on a hot streak right now while the Phillies just got swept by the Giants and scored just one run in their three-game series in San Francisco (and that run was a solo homer by Arrieta). The Cubs will take two of three.
The Cubs host the Pirates in a three-game series at Wrigley Field beginning Friday afternoon.
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