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Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola, historically speaking

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As suggested by some, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola is about mid-way through his age-25 season and working on a “big step forward” year. Now at 12-2, Nola recently engendered a fairly large protest when FOX Sports MLB (@MLBONFOX) posted a poll on Twitter July 10 asking who should start the All-Star game for the National League. The choices were Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Jacob deGrom and “Other.”

No Nola. The Phillies Twitter account (@Phillies) gently suggested an omission by a tweet with a puzzled-looking emoji. Others commenting were not so gentle. One suggested Nola being neglected in favor of Lester was “so weak“and a “JOKE.” Another observed, “I’m not sure what Nola has to do to get the respect he deserves in this and the Cy Young race.” A third used a captioned-photo approach: “me waiting for u to show aaron nola some g*d damn respect” under a picture of Nola’s manager, Gabe Kapler, in street clothes, watching some game somewhere, expectantly.
Other comments were a bit more vulgar. It was somewhat amusing, and the point was made over and over.

Scherzer (11-5, 0.89 WHIP), of course, is likely to start since this year’s All-Star game is in Washington, DC.

However, it might be time to see how Aaron Nola stacks up against the all-time Phillies great pitchers at age 25. As Phillies fans know well, that list is fairly short because of the Phillies’ weak…um…twentieth century. The list includes Grover Cleveland (Ol’ Pete) Alexander, Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton. Two other greats, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee also leap to mind despite their shorter tenures with Philadelphia in their later career years.

Of course, there are variables involved here, the era pitched in and ordinary practices then, other teams pitched for by age 25, and so forth, but here are the numbers.
Wins and Losses by the Ends of Age-25 Seasons
Alexander (with Phillies from age 24): 47-20 (.701)

Roberts (with Phillies from age 21): 91-57 (.615)

Halladay (with Blue Jays from age 21): 37-24 (.607)

Nola (with Phillies from age 22, in progress): 36-24 (.600)

Lee (with Indians from age 23): 17-12 (.586)

Carlton (with Cardinals from age 20): 57-53 (.518)

A number of things are notable here, first and foremost, the seeming fact Alexander and Roberts must have pitched in a “different time,” one allowing starters to amass more decisions more quickly than Carlton, Halladay, Lee and Nola. Note that Ol’ Pete’s 47 wins were gathered in only two years (28 in his age-24 season), for example. Carlton seems a bit of an outlier from both the pair of older or two more modern pitchers by dint of sheer talent.

In other words, most fans know about the rise of relief specialists, probably properly dated from Allie Reynolds’ 1953 season, when the career-long starter-reliever started only 15 of his 41 games and saved 13 games.

The current army of MLB relief specialists – as opposed to “failed” starters used often to “eat innings” (closers excluded) – began to build in numbers about the time Steve Carlton began his MLB career in 1965.

Second, it might be observed three of these six were not even Phillies by age 25, but playing for Toronto, Cleveland and St. Louis seems no particular advantage or handicap relative to Nola’s experience with very weak Phillies teams until this year. In fact, Carlton’s Cardinals went to the World Series in 1967 and ’68.

Where is Aaron Nola in terms of ERA and WHIP?

Aggregate ERAs and WHIPs by the Ends of Age-25 Seasons

Alexander: 2.68 ERA and 1.193 WHIP

Carlton: 2.98 and 1.251

Roberts: 3.05 and 1.176

Nola (in progress): 3.51 and 1.172

Halladay: 4.11 and 1.393

Lee: 4.88 and 1.423
Items to note here: By his age-25 season, Cliff Lee was still four years from his Cy Young award; Roy Halladay was famously sent back to the minors for parts of his age-23 and age-24 years, but Lee also spent time in the minors in his age-24 season. Aaron Nola spent part of his age-22 and age-23 seasons in the minors, the latter in two rehab starts.

Carlton spent parts of his age-20 and 21 years in the minors; Roberts spent only part of his age-21 season in the minors; Alexander never returned to the minors after his debut at 24.

So, halfway through his age-25 season, Nola is fourth on this list in terms of ERA and first in WHIP. We could go on all day with this, introducing more modern measures such as WAR and FIP. (His current career FIP is 3.18; others can burn out calculator batteries extracting the others’ figures through age 25.)

Phillies interested in Orioles reliever Zach Britton

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NEW YORK – The Phillies will see the Baltimore Orioles for the third time in less than two weeks when the teams play a makeup game at Camden Yards on Thursday.

And you know what that means.

More trade buzz between the teams.

Only now it’s not about Manny Machado.

The Phillies’ affection for Machado is well known and Baltimore’s slugging shortstop/third baseman addressed the matter when he was in Philadelphia last week (see story).

At the moment, however, the Phillies find the asking price for Machado to be too steep. The Phils will keep lines of communication open with the Orioles, but their best shot of landing Machado might come in the offseason when he becomes a free agent.

In the meantime, there’s another Oriole to keep an eye on.

According to a major league source, the Phillies have interest in closer Zach Britton and have spoken about him with Orioles officials.

Britton, a 30-year-old lefty, is a two-time All-Star who racked up 120 saves for the Orioles from 2014-2016. He led the American League with 47 saves in 2016 and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting that season. Britton saved 15 games in 2017 but was limited to 38 games because of a forearm injury.

In the offseason, Britton suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. He returned to action in mid-June and has allowed six runs in 12 2/3 innings over his first 13 games. However, all of those runs came in two appearances and Britton has recently been quite effective, racking up five scoreless innings over his last five outings. Britton has given up just two hits and a walk over that span while striking out four and earning a win and a save.

Like Machado, Britton will be a free agent in the offseason. Phillies officials are not keen on giving up multiples of prospects for a rental player, but Britton’s price will be lower than Machado’s. Pretty much every team looking for relief help will have an interest in Britton, so the Orioles can afford to let his market develop. But the Phillies, who could possibly include Maikel Franco in a package, are in the running for him.

Britton, whose best pitch is a hard, sinking fastball, would be a good fit for the Phillies because he is a proven ninth-inning arm and that would allow manager Gabe Kapler to use power-armed Seranthony Dominguez as a high-leverage bullpen wild card as the second half of the season and the pennant race unfolds.

Nick Pivetta, bottom of Phillies' order bounce back to beat Orioles

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BALTIMORE — The first-place Phillies dominated the comically bad Orioles for most of the night Thursday before holding on to survive a 5-4 win.

The Phils had 14 hits and put 16 men on base in the first seven innings.

This was a quick stop in Baltimore to make up the game that was postponed on May 15 following a three-hour rain delay.

The Phillies had no issue with Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman, who had a 3.13 ERA in his last six starts and is the only pitcher in Baltimore's rotation having even an OK season. They pounded him for five runs on 12 hits over five innings.

The bottom of the order, in particular, thrived in this game. Scott Kingery and Jorge Alfaro each went 3 for 4.

It was Alfaro's best game of the season. He doubled in two runs with a fly ball over the leftfielder's head in the fourth inning, then homered to center in the sixth. In the AL park, Alfaro batted ninth.

In all, the Phillies' 7-9 hitters reached base in seven of 12 plate appearances.

The Phillies improved to 52-40, a half-game better than the Braves in the NL East. The Orioles are 26-68 and on pace to lose 118 games.

Alfaro's big night
This was, without question, Alfaro's best offensive night of the year. It was on brand, too, with him swinging early and often.

Alfaro's single and homer both came on the first pitch. There is no player in Major League Baseball this season who has swung at a higher percentage of pitches than Alfaro. 

Surrounded by players with good eyes like Cesar Hernandez, Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins, one wonders if Alfaro could someday develop even a little more selectivity. It's never been his M.O., here at the major-league level or at any stop in the minors.

"You can set aside plate discipline if you're really accurate with the barrel," manager Gabe Kapler said after the win. "The one thing we know for sure is that Alfie can hit the ball hard. When he puts the ball in play, he smokes it. So if we see a little bit more contact, I think he's a productive offensive player. At times, in stretches this season, he's not just been productive but he's helped us win baseball games with his bat. We know it's in there."

Pivetta bounces back
After pitching more than five innings just once in his last nine starts and posting a 6.63 ERA over that span, Nick Pivetta took the Phillies into the seventh in this one.

He allowed three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts over 6⅔ innings. Pivetta was one out away from finishing seven innings when Trey Mancini got him for a two-run homer.

This was an important start for Pivetta, who lately had been the weakest link in the Phillies' rotation. He needs to continue pitching well with Enyel De Los Santos on his heels as well as the (thin) possibility of a trade for a starting pitcher this month.

"We really needed this from Nick," Kapler said. "Staying composed when things don't go exactly his way. Not only did he stay composed in those moments but it's like he elevated his game, made better pitches, had more life on his fastball through the zone."

In 19 starts, Pivetta is 6-7 with a 4.58 ERA. He's struck out 113 and walked 30 in 96 1/3 innings.

Kingery coming on
Kingery has three three-hit games in his last 13 after having none in his first 75.

He's hit .306 over his last nine games and .271 over the last calendar month.

He's still not where he wants to be, and he's still chasing pitches at a high rate, but this represents at least some progress for the rookie shortstop.

Kingery did also commit his ninth error of the season on a throw to Hernandez trying to begin a double play. He made a nice play ranging to his right on a Mark Trumbo groundball but just tried to be too speedy instead of making sure he got one out.

The Phillies actually made two errors in that second inning but Pivetta stranded both. 

"Our defense in that second inning kind of let us down," said Kapler, who usually avoids making such comments. "And in those moments, Nick stepped up. He didn't carry one pitch or one play over to the next. Rather, he continued to step on it."

Too close for comfort
Tommy Hunter allowed a solo home run to Jace Peterson on the very first pitch he threw. Over his last 11 innings, Hunter has allowed eight runs, two homers and 20 base runners. His opponents have hit .348.

On the season, Hunter has a 4.80 ERA and has allowed at least one run in 12 of his 35 appearances.

Fortunately for the Phillies, Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez combined for a scoreless eighth and ninth to preserve the one-run lead.

Dominguez pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save in 10 chances.

Up next
The Phillies will be in their third city in as many days Friday when they open a three-game series in Miami.

Friday at 7:10 — Jake Arrieta (6-6, 3.47) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2-6, 6.14)

Saturday at 4:10 — Aaron Nola (12-2, 2.27) vs. Trevor Richards (2-5, 5.24)

Sunday at 1:10 — Zach Eflin (7-2, 3.15) vs. Jose Ureña (2-9, 4.13).

Phillies' Aaron Nola to start Saturday in order to be available for All-Star Game

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NEW YORK -- The Philadelphia Phillies have adjusted their rotation for this weekend's series against the Miami Marlins to allow ace Aaron Nola to pitch in the All-Star Game.
Nola will move up one day and will draw the start Saturday, while Zach Eflin will pitch Sunday.

"Ultimately, what this guy has earned is the right to pitch in the middle of the summer in the All-Star Game," manager Gabe Kapler said. "That happens maybe once in a lifetime, maybe it happens for him 15 times, but it's at least worth noting that it's an honor you have to respect, and to respect it fully, you have to consider that you may switch things up a little bit."

The 25-year old right-hander is the youngest Philadelphia pitcher selected to an All-Star Game since then-23-year-old Cole Hamels received the honor in 2007. Nola is the first Phillies pitcher to receive an All-Star selection in five years.

Nola has posted a 2.27 ERA with 126 strikeouts over 19 starts and leads the National League with 12 wins. He threw seven shutout innings against Miami on May 2 and has won each of his last four starts.

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