If the old saying is true – that pitching wins championships – then the Phillies seem to be in a lot of trouble this year. The bullpen ranks 15th in all of baseball with a 4.27 ERA. Coincidently, the starters also rank 15th in all of baseball, this time with a 4.32 ERA.

Out of the starters, only Zach Eflin has an ERA below 4.00 (his is at 2.88). The other six guys who have started have all been wildly inconsistent, and it shows. It feels like they’re either going to pitch a gem or let up five home runs. There is no in-between.

It’s gotten so bad that Jerad Eickhoff has lost his starting role and is being moved to the bullpen after posting an 8.89 ERA over his last six starts and letting up five long balls against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night. It’s still undetermined who will be taking his spot – either Cole Irvin, Vince Velasquez (though he’s best served to stay in the bullpen), the opener, or someone else entirely.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler says this is not unusual, that it’s not “any different than what a lot of clubs are dealing with, which is trying to get a very capable starter on track and consistent.”

Well, the Phillies should not be like every other team in the league. After the offseason they had, signing the likes of Bryce Harper and trading for J.T. Realmuto, expectations were the highest they have been in years. And while the offense has delivered for the most part, averaging 4.91 runs per game this season, the pitching is holding them back. As their lead in the division has dwindled away, they’ve seen their run differential drop to a measly plus 19.

In the back half of the season, and in the postseason if they’re lucky enough to get there, is anyone going to have any faith in these starters? Jake Arrieta has been there before, so one would hope he can turn it up at that moment. Aaron Nola has struggled at times, but he should be able to find his form from last year by the end of this season. But the rest? It could be the difference between a World Series victory or losing in the NLDS.

Now, it’s not all bleak. The good news is the Phillies will be in a position to make a trade or two to shore up their rotation and bullpen, and if they’re crafty, potentially add an outfielder to boot.

The big name out there is obviously Madison Bumgarner. “Madbum” has already cemented his postseason legacy, and would be a huge add for the Phillies, greatly shifting the balance of power in the National League East. Speaking of crafty, maybe they could steal outfielder Kevin Pillar in the deal. Pillar has a decent enough bat, but he plays a mean center field; he’s a human highlight reel out there.

Staying in the NL West, the Diamondbacks could prove to be a trade partner for the Phillies. Depending on where they stand at July 31st, they could be looking to unload and rebuild. Zack Greinke could be a longshot, but Robbie Ray is an intriguing name the Phillies have been linked to for a while. And again, getting crafty, maybe they could pull an outfielder in the deal too. Adam Jones?

Cleveland and Toronto would both make sense for the Phillies to start talking to as well. Both teams are quickly falling out of the race in their respective divisions, and both have starters and relievers that may be available.

The Indians will almost assuredly have Trevor Bauer on the trade block. With the right package of players – Adonis Medina, Luis Garcia, Mickey Moniak – they could pry him and potentially Brad Hand from the Tribe. After spending most of last season closing with San Diego, Hand was traded to the Indians at the deadline and has put up stellar numbers. This season, he has a microscopic 0.98 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. If the Phillies can pull these deal off, it would be a steal.

Less impressive, but just as helpful, would be the Blue Jays. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman should both be available. A similar group of prospects could fetch one of them and could also bring the return of former Phillie Ken Giles. Giles is having a resurgent season north of the border, posting a 1.08 ERA after struggling mightily since the Phillies traded him to Houston in 2015.

And then there are a myriad of other pitchers the Phillies could acquire, like Mike Minor of the Rangers. But it’s clear the Phillies need to do something. Atlanta made the first move, signing free agent Dallas Keuchel last week. The Phils cannot sit idly by and watch their biggest competition make a big move like that, especially when the holes in their own rotation seem so big.


And the front office knows this. It’s still a little too early for big trades to happen, but the Phillies shouldn’t wait too long – someone may beat them to it. After all, acquiring Bauer and Hand in the same deal sounds like a dream come true, if a little ambitious.

Photo: via Twitter (@cavs_newsnow)
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