The Philadelphia Phillies may have only been 5-5 heading into play on Friday. However, thus far they have received some fantastic pitching from a 23-year-old that has very little Major League Baseball experience. Vince Velasquez has started the season on fire for Philadelphia with a 2-0 record after two starts.
Over his 15 innings of work in 2016, Velasquez has struck out an incredible 25 hitters. Furthermore, his WHIP is down at 0.60, and his ERA remains a perfect 0.00. In an April 9th road game against the New York Mets, he went six strong while surrendering just three hits and three walks. He followed that up with a stronger performance in his second start, pitching a complete-game shutout against the Padres on April 14th. In that Thursday game, Velasquez struck out at incredible 16 hitters.
On the offensive side of things, Philadelphia look like they will have to rely on Ryan Howard and Maikel Franco. The clean-up hitter and the three-hitter have respective OPSs of .981 and .830 heading into Friday. However, with Franco, there certainly is a high ceiling for improvement. The third baseman hit 14 home runs last season despite missing about half of the games. He truly has the potential to hit 30 in 2016 if he can stay healthy and perhaps this Philly team is a little below the radar when it comes to clubs that can play better than .500 baseball over the long term.
But in order to get involved in a pennant race in the NL East over the summer, Philly will likely need to play much better than .500. The Washington Nationals are considered the team to beat in that division and they are off to a flying start at 7-1. Fans of the teams in the NL East will remember that Washington were the favorites last year in the division only to see the New York Mets win it en route to the pennant for the entire National League. The Nats won’t keep .875 up forever so we’ll have to wait and see how high they set the bar in the East this season.
Regardless, after a stretch of disappointing seasons in Philadelphia, the Phillies do stand to inject some feelings of optimism into their fan base. It could take a little while before fans that aren’t getting Philadelphia games televised in their region realize that the Phillies have two very solid young stars (Franco is 23 as well). But if Velasquez keeps mowing down hitters and if Franco can get into All-Star contention then that will change.
Coming up for Philly this weekend is a home series against Washington, one that they have to be hoping to take 2 of 3 in. Before the end of the month, Philadelphia will play the Nats again in Washington, with two other series against the Mets and Brewers as well. My feeling is that .520 baseball is a good and realistic goal for this team this season.