Even with Harper, Phillies must improve starting pitching to contend

The Phillies this offseason have strengthened their defense, added to their bullpen and added three quality players - shortstop Jean Segura, catcher J.T. Realmuto and reliever David Robertson - and two former National League MVP outfielders, Andrew McCutchen and former National Bryce Harper, who has a 13-year, $330 million free-agent contract to play for one of the Nationals’ division rivals.

So, does that make the Phillies, who haven’t had a winning season since 2011, the odds-on favorite to win the National League East?

Not necessarily.

The Phillies’ biggest problem is their starting rotation.

They have the fourth-best rotation in the division.

The Nationals and Mets have better rotations than the Phillies. The defending division champion Braves also have a better rotation.

The Phillies’ best starter is right-hander Aaron Nola, who finished third behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in last season’s NL Cy Young Award voting.

The No. 2 starter is Jake Arrieta, whose best days appear to be behind him. He’s 32 and his ERA jumped from 3.23 to 5.04 in the second half of last season.

After that, the rotation presents a question mark. There’s potential, but not much of a track record.

Jerad Eickhoff, 28, is a potentially a top-of-the-rotation guy, but his challenge is to come back from numbness in his right hand that limited him to 5 1/3 innings for the season. In 2016, Eickhoff pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 197 innings, but he slumped in 2017 and was sidelined last season.

Vince Velasquez, 26, has a 4.69 ERA in his three seasons with the Phillies, who are concerned that he’s morphed into a five-inning pitcher. Zach Eflin, 24, has potential but was also a different pitcher in the first half of 2018 (3.33) than he was in second (5.62).

It is the same story for Nick Pivetta, the former Nationals prospect. He showed promise in the first half, but his ERA ballooned to 5.05 after the All-Star break.

A tighter defense should help. Segura is one of the best defensive shortstops around. McCutchen will play left field, moving Rhys Hoskins to first base, his best defensive position.

Realmuto, acquired in a trade from the Marlins, is one of the best catchers in the league.

Harper will play right field, replacing Nick Williams. Odúbel Herrera will play center.

After a winning first half last season, the Phillies finished 80-82, 10 games out of first, two games behind the second-place Nationals. They finished 11th in runs scored with 677, and their team batting average of .234 was last in the league.

Harper and all the new additions will help them score. The Phillies’ defense is better. But, the Phillies contending in the NL East will depend on how their rotation performs.

How will Harper look in a Phillies’ uniform?

He’ll be in Nationals Park April 2 and 3.