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July 08, 2019

Paul Hagen: Some random Phillies thoughts heading into the MLB All-Star break

From the crumbling starting rotation to the impact of Jay Bruce, let's check in on the Phils while we wait for real baseball games to return

The Phillies rotation already resembled the late stages of a Jenga game even before Jake Arrieta conceded late Saturday night that he sort of, kinda, maybe, might be dealing with some sort of physical problem which has since been reported to be a bone spur in his elbow.

Channeling Captain Obvious here, but this sure looks like the kind of development that could bring the whole tower of blocks tumbling down.

No, Arrieta hasn’t been the guy the Phillies might have hoped they were getting when he signed that 3-year, $75 million contract after spring training was already underway in 2018.

He’s averaged six innings a start, though, which almost qualifies as a workhorse in this era. The team is 10-8 when he’s gone to the mound this year despite scoring three or fewer runs in seven of those games. He brings a certain addytood to the clubhouse. In short, he won’t be easily replaced.

That dramatically ups the ante as – tick, tick, tick – the July 31 trade deadline approaches. It was already widely accepted that an organization that had already spent lavishly on Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson this offseason needed to double down by adding a quality starter if they had any hopes of catching the Braves.

That was always going to be both difficult and expensive in terms of both money and prospects. But two top-shelf starters? That might not even be possible. Which means that now, more than ever, the burden shifts to Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.

Not to do more than they can do. To perform at the level they’ve demonstrated they’re capable of. Just do it more consistently. A whole lot more consistently. Which is still a lot to ask.

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Being charged with domestic violence will end up costing Odubel Herrera more than half this season and about $2.5 million in salary, not to mention damaging his reputation for the rest of his life.

Even though charges were dropped, Major League Baseball had the right under the collective bargaining agreement to suspend him for the rest of the year. It was an appropriate response that sent a strong message about having zero tolerance for such behavior.

That’s far from the end of this sorry story, of course.

The last line of a statement released on Herrera’s behalf was a slap-upside-the-head reminder of that fact, just in case anybody had forgotten. “I look forward to rejoining the Phillies once my suspension is served,” it began.

It certainly seems as though a large majority of Phillies fans are vehemently opposed to Herrera rejoining the Phillies once his suspension is served. Or ever, for that matter. That, too, is an appropriate response.

There’s also a deeper philosophical issue, though, about whether people who are accused of a crime, even one as horrendous as domestic violence, should be given a chance for redemption after complying with whatever punishment they’re given. A deeper philosophical question that will not be debated here or now, by the way.

The Phillies have a tough decision. The easy and popular move would be to simply release Herrera and eat the $19.5 million or so left on his contract. But here’s a question for those who are clamoring for the team to do just that: Would you feel the same way if he was an All-Star who was seen as integral to the team’s chances instead of a guy who was hitting .222 and had played his way out of the lineup when he was arrested? Be honest now.

And if you still say you would, did you ever cheer for Michael Vick when he threw a touchdown pass for the Eagles? Just wondering.

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Four starts ago, Aaron Nola had a 4.85 earned run average and that led to some understandable concern about a right-hander who finished third in the Cy Young voting last year and subsequently signed a 4-year, $45 million contract extension despite being three years away from being eligible for free agency.

Since then his ERA is 0.76. And that’s led to a convenient storyline that the Louisiana native is hitting his stride because he’s more comfortable pitching in hotter weather.

Um, that’s probably not it. At least not all of it.

It’s true that while he was on his way to going 17-6, 2.27 in 2018 he put up great numbers when the announced game-time temperature was at least 90 degrees. That happened three times and his ERA in those games was 1.80.

It’s also true that his ERA was 2.80 in seven starts when the thermometer was below 70. But in between it was 2.01 in 13 appearances between 70 and 79 degrees, but jumped to 2.74 in 10 outings between 80 and 89.

That’s a lot of numbers, but the bottom line is that that it’s far too simplistic to suggest that the only reason Nola has been so hot is because the weather has been, too. Even that isn’t strictly true. During this four-game stretch, the game has started in the 90s just once.

*     *     *

Jay Bruce.

Every general manager makes mistakes. Pat Gillick signed free agent right-hander Adam Eaton to a three-year, $24 million contract. He traded for Freddy Garcia. And he’s still got a plaque in Cooperstown.

Current GM Matt Klentak has made plenty of moves that have backfired. It’s part of the job description.

But, again. Jay Bruce. Batting .212 with 14 homers and 28 RBI in 47 games with the Mariners. Hitting .291 with 10 homers and 29 RBI in 28 games since being acquired from the Mariners.

There’s no way Klentak could have anticipated what an impact the outfielder would make, especially since the trade came less than a week before McCutchen was lost for the season with a torn ACL. And who knows how the second half of the season will play out.

Still, without Bruce, who looked like a scribble in the margins when he arrived, there might not be nearly as much reason to care about what happens between now and the end of the year.

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