So: how good is the Phillies rotation?

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Halladay. Lee. Hamels. Oswalt. And whoever. I’m not going to waste your time with wondering whether that’s the best rotation in the game today, because it clearly is. Any arguable next-best rotation probably has one guy who would crack that top four, and if you think otherwise, you’re dreaming.  No, we need to go with history here.

The most recent comparables are those Braves rotations of the 90s. But on a man-by-man basis, the Phillies are probably better. Maddux was better than Halladay at their best, but all three of the Phillies other big-four are probably better, on average, than Glavine, Smoltz and whoever else trailed them.* And there were many others taking that four-spot. Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz were a constant — at least when Smoltz wasn’t missing a year here or there for surgery — but beyond the top three, there was an often-changing cast of characters. Some Steve Avery here, some Denny Neagle there, and a dash or two of Pete Smith or Kevin Millwood to fill in the cracks.  They got great performances from those number four guys on occasion, but going in, none looked as strong top-to-bottom as the 2011 Phillies will.  At least on paper.

Going back, we reach those early 70s Orioles rotations. In 1971 the Orioles boasted four 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Mike Cuellar.  And they weren’t merely run-support-powered wins, as they had a 2.89 ERA — about a run better than the rest of the league that year — with Palmer, McNally and Dobson finishing 3-7-8 in ERA.  But we must also remember that (a) wins and ERA are not the most critical metric in judging a staff; and (b) these O’s played in a much more friendly pitchers’ environment than will the 2011 Phillies.  I think they break down similarly to the Phillies as the Braves rotations do — Palmer at his best is probably the best of the eight of them, though it’s way closer — but the 2-4 pitchers are better on Philly. And really, I’d probably take Halladay over Palmer simply because I think he faces better hitters than Palmer did. I bet this is the comparison you see most in 2011, with people wondering the the Phillies can boast four 20-game winners. Why? Because that’s fun.

The mid-60s Dodgers? Koufax and Drysdale weren’t alone. They had Don Sutton and Claude Osteen helping them out. They struck out tons of guys, walked few, and gave up very few hits. In 1965 and 1966 they made the World Series without having a ton of offense either.  But that’ s the thing: no one had a ton of offense in the 60s, and the Dodgers had the added benefit of playing in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in modern memory, complete with an absurdly high mound.  People will consider it sacrilege to compare the Phillies to the mid-60s Dodgers because they roamed the Earth a much longer time ago and the name Koufax looms so large in history.  But I’m guessing some statheads will be able to make some arguments — that will be howled at by people who don’t understand era and context adjustments — that the Phillies are better.  They may even be right.

Beyond those guys we get into more ancient history and eras that begin to bear little resemblance to our own.  I’m guessing that any argument of the best rotations of all time will list those Braves, Dodgers and Orioles teams in the top five anyway. At least in the post-segregation era.  And the Phillies — barring injury — stand a damn fine chance of joining them.

 

*When I say, on average, I mean that any given expected season from a non-Maddux 1990s Braves pitcher is not as not as good as we can expect from Hamels, Lee or Oswalt next year.  They had better seasons in practice — Smoltz’s Cy Young year spring to mind — but it wasn’t the kind of thing you could bet on.

Olson blasts two HRs, Acuña has 4 hits as Strider, Braves overpower Phillies 11-4

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA – Given a seven-run lead in the first inning, Atlanta right-hander Spencer Strider could relax and keep adding to his majors-leading strikeout total.

“That game felt like it was over pretty quick,” Strider said.

Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in three runs with four hits, including a two-run single in Atlanta’s seven-run first inning, and the Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 11-4 on Sunday night to split the four-game series.

“Getting a lead first is big, especially when you get that big of a lead,” Strider said. “… When we’re putting up runs, my job isn’t to be perfect. My job is to get outs.”

Following the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced right-hander Michael Soroka will be recalled to make his first start since the 2020 season on Monday night at Oakland.

Matt Olson hit a pair of two-run homers for Atlanta, and Strider became the fastest pitcher in modern history to reach 100 strikeouts in a season.

“It’s incredible,” said Acuña through a translator of Strider. “Every time he goes out to pitch it seems like he’s going to strike everybody out.”

Acuña hit a run-scoring triple in the fifth before Olson’s second homer to center. Acuña had two singles in the first when the Braves sent 11 batters to the plate, collected seven hits and opened a 7-0 lead. Led by Acuña and Olson, who had three hits, the Braves set a season high with 20 hits.

Strider (5-2) struck out nine while pitching six innings of two-run ball. The right-hander fired a called third strike past Nick Castellanos for the first out of the fourth, giving him 100 strikeouts in 61 innings and topping Jacob deGrom‘s 61 2/3 innings in 2021 as the fastest to 100 in the modern era.

“It’s cool,” Strider said, adding “hopefully it’ll keep going.”

Olson followed Acuña’s leadoff single with a 464-foot homer to right-center. Austin Riley added another homer before Ozzie Albies and Acuña had two-run singles in the long first inning.

Phillies shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Kyle Schwarber each committed an error on a grounder by Orlando Arcia, setting up two unearned runs in the inning.

Strider walked Kody Clemens to open the third. Brandon Marsh followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies’ first hit. Schwarber hit a two-run homer off Collin McHugh in the seventh.

LEAPING CATCH

Michael Harris II celebrated the one-year anniversary of his major league debut by robbing Schwarber of a homer with a leaping catch at the center-field wall in the second. As Harris shook his head to say “No!” after coming down with the ball on the warning track, Strider pumped his fist in approval on the mound – after realizing Harris had the ball.

“He put me through an emotional roller coaster for a moment,” Strider said.

SOROKA RETURNING TO ROTATION

Soroka was scratched from his scheduled start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday, setting the stage for his final step in his comeback from two torn Achilles tendons.

“To get back is really a feather in that kid’s cap,” Snitker said.

Soroka will be making his first start in the majors since Aug. 3, 2020, against the New York Mets when he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon. Following a setback which required a follow-up surgery, he suffered another tear of the same Achilles tendon midway through the 2021 season.

Soroka suffered another complication in his comeback when a hamstring injury slowed his progress this spring.

Acuña said he was “super happy, super excited for him, super proud of him” and added “I’m just hoping for continued good health.”

Soroka looked like an emerging ace when he finished 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and placed second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the NL Cy Young voting.

The Braves are 0-3 in bullpen committee games as they attempt to overcome losing two key starters, Max Fried (strained left forearm) and Kyle Wright (right shoulder inflammation) to the injured list in early May. Each is expected to miss at least two months.

RHP Dereck Rodriguez, who gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, was optioned to Gwinnett after the game to clear a roster spot for Soroka.

QUICK EXIT

Phillies right-hander Dylan Covey (0-1), claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 20, didn’t make it through the first inning. Covey allowed seven runs, five earned, and six hits, including the homers by Olson and Riley.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: 3B Alex Bohm was held out with hamstring tightness. … LHP José Alvarado (left elbow inflammation) threw the bullpen session originally scheduled for Saturday. Manager Rob Thomson said there was no report that Alvarado, who was placed on the injured list on May 10, had any difficulty.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Following an off day, LHP Ranger Suárez (0-1, 9.82 ERA) is scheduled to face Mets RHP Kodai Senga (4-3, 3.94 ERA) in Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series in New York.

Braves: Soroka was 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in eight games with Triple-A Gwinnett. He allowed a combined four hits and two runs over 10 2/3 innings in his last two starts. RHP Paul Blackburn (7-6, 4.28 ERA in 2022) is scheduled to make his 2023 debut for Oakland as he returns from a finger injury.