Things looked grim for the Phillies after they were swept at home in a three-game series by the Baltimore Orioles last week, but they bounced back nicely with a three-game sweep of their own against the New York Mets over the weekend. Despite an unimpressive 8-9 record, they are only two games behind the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves, who are tied atop the National League East.
Now comes the first real road trip of the season.
The Phillies will be off for the eighth time this season Monday, although this will be the first time they are off on a day that was scheduled off when the original 60-game schedule was released. After the off day, they will play seven games in six days, starting Tuesday and Wednesday against the struggling Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Then they will play in Buffalo for the first time since 1885 when they take on Toronto in a pair of seven-inning games Thursday before spending the weekend in Atlanta. After another off day next Monday, the Phillies will face the World Series-champion Washington Nationals next week to close out the road trip.
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It’s always risky business signing a starting pitcher to a big-dollar, multi-year contract, and it’s well documented that the exercise makes Phillies president Andy MacPhail cringe. But it’s an act the Phillies have had to do in recent years, and at least early in this season, it appears as if they signed the right guy this time in Zack Wheeler.
The six biggest names among the free-agent arms on the market last winter were Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels and Wheeler.
Cole, 29, signed with the Yankees for nine years and $324 million, and it was a foregone conclusion that would be where he ended up. So far, the Yankees have no regrets. They are off to a 15-6 start, and a third of those wins have come on days that Cole has pitched. He is 4-0 with a 2.76 ERA in his five starts.
The Nationals paid the 32-year-old Strasburg $245 million over seven years to retain his services after he played a vital role in their run to the franchise’s first World Series title last season. He was late to the starting gate because of a hand injury, and after just two starts, he is back on the injured list with a 10.80 ERA and carpal tunnel neuritis, an injury that has to be scary for anybody who makes a living throwing a baseball.
Bumgarner, 31, signed with Arizona for five years and $85 million and is on the 10-day injured list with a back injury after opening the year 0-3 with a 9.35 ERA. He has allowed seven home runs in 17 1/3 innings.
Ryu, 33, signed with Toronto for four years and $80 million and is 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA after four starts, and Hamels, 36, has yet to pitch for the Braves because of a shoulder injury after signing a one-year deal worth $18 million.
Wheeler, 30, got the third-biggest deal among free-agent starters, signing with the Phillies for five years and $118 million. His numbers after four starts stand up quite nicely next to Cole’s. After winning his first career start against his former team Sunday, the Georgia native improved to 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in his first four starts with the Phillies. He has accounted for three of the team’s eight wins.
Without question, Sunday’s win had to be among the most satisfying of Wheeler’s career because Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen took a mild shot at him after he signed with the Phillies.
“My adrenaline was going when I was out there,” Wheeler said after chatting with some of his former Mets teammates, whom he held to two runs over seven innings. “I got excited. But once you get out there, you have to settle those nerves and just remember it’s another game even though you know those guys out there and are competing against them. You have to go out there and just pitch.”
If Wheeler was nervous, manager Joe Girardi did not notice.
“I thought he was great,” the manager said. “Those three hitters make you work so hard to get through them. You always worry about pitch counts, but as the game went on, he got sharper; he got more efficient. I think he felt better with his stuff.
“The one thing I have not seen a whole lot from Zack is emotion. He was kind of the same guy today as I see him every day. Even after the game when we took him out, he was the same guy as he is every day. I think that’s a great trait for a starting pitcher because I think they’ll be able to be consistent every time they go out.”
That sure sounds a lot like Aaron Nola, too, and we know how the Phillies feel about their ace who gave them seven shutout innings in Saturday’s win over the Mets.
Andrew McCutchen did not start Sunday’s game against the Mets and really did not know if he’d play, but when Jay Bruce left in the fifth inning with a quadriceps injury, the former National League MVP entered the game and slugged his first home run in 443 days, a tie-breaking, two-run shot off Rick Porcello.
Reliever David Robertson, the Phillies’ prized free-agent pitcher signing before last season, is still hopeful he will return from Tommy John surgery this season. Scott Lauber tells the story of his difficult rehab process that was halted by the Phillies’ Clearwater COVID-19 outbreak in late June.
The price for the Phillies to retain the services of catcher J.T. Realmuto has gone up in the early going of this season for a couple of reasons: He has played exceptionally well, and the addition of the designated hitter to the National League has made it possible for him to play even more.
Former Phillies outfielder Nick Williams was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. He was the team’s last remaining player in the 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers.
Center fielder Roman Quinn awoke Sunday with a sore throat and an ear ache and underwent a series of COVID-19 tests instead of reporting to work for the series finale vs. the Mets. Quinn still must pass more testing before making the trip to Boston with the team Monday.
Matt Breen explains why the Phillies’ decision to retire Dick Allen’s No. 15 should open the door for Phillies greats such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Hamels to have their numbers also retired even if they fall short of making it to the Hall of Fame.
Today: Off day
Tomorrow: Phillies vs. Boston at Fenway Park, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Series finale with Red Sox, 1:35 p.m.
Thursday: Doubleheader with Toronto in Buffalo, starting at 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies at Atlanta, 7:05 p.m.
On this date in 1894, the Phillies won by 29-4 over Louisville, and you had to kind of feel sorry for Harry Wadsworth, who pitched a complete game for Louisville despite allowing 36 hits.
The all-time greatest baseball story also occurred on this date in 1957, when the late Richie Ashburn fouled off a ball that hit spectator Alice Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, in the nose. During the same at-bat, Ashburn fouled off another pitch that hit Roth again and fractured a knee as she was being removed from Connie Mack Stadium on a stretcher. Ashburn felt awful and brought her flowers in the hospital.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: What do you think has happened to Scott Kingery? — Ken S., via email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Ken, and for reading Extra Innings. Kingery did get two hits Sunday, and even though neither one came with particularly hard contact, it had to feel good for him. Still, he does not have an extra-base hit this season and it’s not unfair to say he has been the least productive hitter in the big leagues so far this season.
Some of his problems can probably be blamed on his battle with a severe case of COVID-19 this summer that delayed his arrival to camp, but the truth is he has struggled since the second half of last season. At the All-Star break last season, he was hitting .292 with 16 doubles and 11 home runs in 58 games. In 81 games since, he has hit .215 with 18 doubles and eight home runs.