Jake Arrieta puts Phillies on cusp of 50th win, eyes NL East title

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia
NBC Sports Philadelphia

PITTSBURGH -- The Phillies will go for their 50th win of the season on Sunday afternoon.

They didn't notch their 50th win last season until August 31.

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Think about that for a moment.

The Phillies received a strong start from Jake Arrieta, rallied for three two-out runs in the top of the seventh inning and got excellent relief work from Seranthony Dominguez and Victor Arano in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon (see first take).

It was the Phils' sixth straight win and eighth in the last nine games as they improved to 49-37. They are 19-7 in one-run games. They are 6-0 against the Pirates this season and tied for the top spot in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies' window of contention has opened a year before most folks thought it would and that has left the front office trying to balance the present with the future as it seeks upgrades on the July trade market.

The players are paying attention.

"If you make a really big move you probably have to give up some prospects or maybe a major-league-ready guy that you don't necessarily want to give up for a chance to maybe have that guy only for a couple of months and then you don't know if you can sign them in free agency," Arrieta said. "So it's a tough decision and that's why the guys in the front office have to really decide what the priority is.

"But having said that, the team that we have right now is capable of winning the division, there's no doubt in my mind. We've shown flashes of it – a well-rounded starting rotation, a lineup that will scratch and claw for runs and every once in a while we'll put up 10 or 11 runs. We're capable of doing it with the group we have here. It wouldn't surprise me if we did make a move, but how big of a move remains to be seen."

Arrieta and Carlos Santana were the team's big moves in the offseason. Both came on free-agent deals and both played significant roles in win No. 49 on Saturday. Arrieta pitched seven innings of two-run ball and kept things close until the offense got over its hangover from Friday night's 17-5 victory and rallied for three in the seventh.

Santana was on first base via a fielder's choice with two outs in the top of the seventh. He chugged all the way home with the Phillies' first run on a triple to right by Nick Williams. Before Williams' triple, Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon had given up just three singles. After Williams' triple, Scott Kingery tied the game with a base hit up the middle and Jorge Alfaro followed with a double to the gap to put the Phillies ahead.

The rally could have ended at one run if Williams hadn't made a twisting, headfirst slide into third to avoid being the third out.

"I don't know how I did it," Williams said. "I was just an athlete, I guess. A lot of things I do, I really can't explain. It's just a reaction."

Arrieta had not won a game since May 29 and he entered this one with a 6.16 ERA in his previous six starts. He gave up a run in the first (a wild pitch and an unsuccessful infield shift hurt him there) and a solo homer in the third, but allowed just one base runner the rest of his stay. He put up a shutdown zero in the bottom of the seventh, after his mates gave him the lead.

Seranthony Dominguez got three outs in the eighth and was lifted for a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the ninth. Victor Arano was charged with getting the save and he did, surviving a leadoff double in the process. Over the last five games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just three earned runs in 27 1/3 innings

With the potential tying run on second, Arano got two strikeouts and a fly ball in registering the tough save. He showed a power fastball and slider - and plenty of guts.

"From the get-go, I knew it was going to be a tough inning because it was a save situation," Arano said with the help of translator Diego Ettedgui. "I knew I had to be really good. That double is part of the game. I was really confident with my pitches. I'm a confident guy. I have belief in my stuff."

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