PHOENIX — A few days ago, before the Phillies embarked on this West Coast trip, manager Gabe Kapler cited one of his favorite statistics — fielding independent pitching — to illustrate how well the starting rotation has been performing.
But with pitching as dominant as this, advanced metrics aren’t required.
Nick Pivetta became the latest Phillies starter to turn out the lights on an opponent. He blanked the Diamondbacks for six innings here Tuesday night, outpitching Arizona ace Zack Greinke in a 5-2 victory that stretched the Phillies’ lead in the National League East back to 1 1/2 games.
Over the last eight games, Phillies starters — Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin — have combined to allow nine earned runs in 55 1/3 innings for a 1.46 ERA. Next up: Velasquez, who will seek to give the Phillies another series victory Wednesday in the matinee finale at Chase Field.
For a second game in a row, the Phillies left their starting pitcher without margin for error. And for a second game in a row, their starter didn’t need any.
Like Arrieta on Monday night, Pivetta was superb. His fastball crackled, averaging 95 mph and scraping 97, and he rode it for most of his six innings. He put runners on base in all but the fifth but escaped each time, including ground-ball double plays in both the second and fourth innings.
Pivetta had thrown 96 pitches when he got lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh. At that point, the Phillies led 1-0. It wasn’t until after Luis Garcia tossed a scoreless inning that the offense poured it on, scoring four times in the top of the eighth against former Phillies reliever Jake Diekman.
The rotation has led the way for the Phillies all season. As Kapler proudly noted, each of the five starters has a FIP of less than 4.00. Only two other teams — the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians — can say the same of their rotations.
But this eight-game roll has been something to behold. It began July 30 at Fenway Park with Nola’s eight-inning gem and continued right on through a four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park and the first two games of this series against the Diamondbacks.
The seventh-inning outburst began with sloppy defense by the D’backs. Diekman made a low toss to first base on Cesar Hernandez’s squibber, and after the ball skidded into right fielder, Steven Souza Jr. airmailed a throw to third base, allowing Hernandez to score.
Unlike Monday night, when the Phillies were unable to add on to a 2-0 lead for Arrieta, they continued their rally against Diekman. They loaded the bases for Asdrubal Cabrera, who drove in two runs with a double. Two batters later, Jorge Alfaro followed with an RBI single to make it 5-0.
The Diamondbacks broke through in the bottom of the eighth thanks to slipshod defense by the Phillies. Herrera was unable to haul in Paul Goldschmidt’s drive to the center-field warning track, and third baseman Maikel Franco couldn’t handle a bouncer.
But Pat Neshek closed out the game in the bottom of the ninth to give the Phillies their sixth win in seven games.