The Phillies, with the ability to have a full-capacity ballpark for the first time since 2019, will open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Friday night in a game that will feature a premier pitching matchup between Zack Wheeler and Max Scherzer. It’s not an exaggeration to say this is a vital game for the Phillies even though it is only No. 56 of 162 on their schedule.
The last time Wheeler went to the mound six days ago against the Tampa Bay Rays, he was brilliant, allowing just four hits and establishing a career high with 14 strikeouts over seven innings. And the Phillies still found a way to lose.
Because the team is flawed in so many ways, the Phillies cannot afford to lose on the days when their ace throws a gem. If Wheeler and the Phillies can beat Scherzer and the Nationals to start the homestand, it could lead to some good things for a team that typically plays very well at home.
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Zack Wheeler has been worth the big bucks
When former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal worth $118 million before the 2020 season, a lot of people wondered if it was too much money and too many years for a guy who had a 3.94 ERA in the previous three seasons and had never pitched 200 innings in a season.
We now know that Klentak hit big on Wheeler.
In fact, it could be argued that Wheeler has been the best value among the free-agent starting pitchers who signed for at least three years after the 2019 season.
It’s a list that also includes Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees (9 years, $324 million), Washington’s Stephen Strasburg (7 years, $245 million), Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner (5 years, $85 million), Toronto’s Hyun Jin-Ryu (4 years, $80 million), Dallas Keuchel of the Chicago White Sox (3 years, $55.5 million), Texas’ Kyle Gibson (3 years, $28 million), and Milwaukee’s Josh Lindblom (3 years, $9.12 million).
Cole, 30, has been, by far, the best pitcher of the bunch, posting a 13-5 record and 2.32 ERA in 23 starts for the Yankees, but Wheeler, at 8-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 22 starts, could easily be considered a better value. Wheeler is only 101 days older than Cole, and it appears his talent is still ascending.
“I feel really dialed in right now,” Wheeler said after his 14-strikeout effort against the Rays last week. “When you are able to command most of your pitches, it definitely makes it easier to get ahead in the count and I think the numbers speak for themselves in that regard. When you get ahead in the count leaguewide, you can put guys away a little quicker and the [opponents’] batting average drops.”
Opponents are hitting .199 against Wheeler, by far the best mark of his career and a sure sign of an elite pitcher. Hitters, for example, are batting .198 against Cole and .177 against Scherzer.
The only starting pitcher who might be offering better value than Wheeler from the free-agent class of 2019 is Jin-Ryu, who has gone 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA in 22 starts for the Blue Jays. By far, the worst values right now are Strasburg (1-3 with a 5.74 ERA in just seven starts) and Bumgarner (5-9 with a 6.04 ERA in 21 starts).
Scott Lauber offers a series of observations about the Phillies ahead of their eight-game homestand, including the idea of platooning Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller in left field.
Third baseman Alec Bohm struggled through April and May, but hopes that a good start to June on Tuesday night in Cincinnati leads to better things. In 2019, during his only full June as a professional, Bohm batted a combined .321 with a .409 on-base percentage and .952 OPS at high-A Clearwater and double-A Reading.
Have some questions about what to expect at Citizens Bank Park with the stadium being fully open to fans again? Nick Vadala has some answers.
Tonight: Aces up: Wheeler against Scherzer, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Spencer Howard goes against Joe Ross, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez pitches series finale vs. Washington, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Phils’ third off day in seven days.
Tuesday: The Braves come to town, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
In 14 games since his heated dugout exchange with Phillies manager Joe Girardi, Jean Segura has batted .327 with a .400 on-base percentage and an .869 OPS. Girardi recently complimented Segura for being an offensive mainstay during the injury absences of J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Didi Gregorius.
Because of a strained quad that kept him out of the lineup for 15 games earlier this season, Segura is not listed among qualified hitters, but he has been among the most productive second basemen in baseball so far this season. His .322 batting average is the second best in the game among the 24 second basemen with at least 140 at-bats, and his .366 on-base percentage and .823 OPS both rank fifth.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Do we not have one right-handed bat in the Phillies’ system that we can bring up to the big club? We are so left-hand dominant. It seems that most of our competition has several left-handed relief arms. — Fred K., via email
Answer: The short answer to your excellent question is no. No, there is not one right-handed bat in the system right now that the Phillies can bring to the big leagues to address the very real problem you mention.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that Ronald Torreyes has done an excellent job as the team’s right-handed bat off the bench since coming off the COVID injury list on May 18. In 12 games, including nine starts since that date, Torreyes has batted .333 with three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs, supplanting Nick Maton as Didi Gregorius’ primary replacement in the process.
Still, it seems likely that president of baseball operations David Dombrowski will look for a right-handed bat off the bench at the trade deadline.