The Phillies hit the Jackpot with Zack Wheeler
Since the emergence of Aaron Nola, the Phillies have struggled to find another suitable pitcher to accompany him at the top of the rotation. After multiple failed attempts of landing another premier starter, the Phillies struck gold. Prior to the 2020 season, the front office went all-in on arguably the biggest free-agent pitcher of that offseason. Zack Wheeler left the division rival Mets to sign a five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies which would give him an AAV of $23.6 million. Two years into the contract, and the investment has looked incredible.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB players made 37% of their salaries in 2020 when the season was cut to just 60 games last year. If you take that into consideration when discussing Wheelers contract (which you should), Wheeler was only paid $8.73 million in year one with the Phillies. All things considered, he still put up good numbers in his first year, with a record of 4-2 and a 2.92 ERA.
This year, Zack Wheeler has elevated his game to a whole new level. Before signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, MLB scouts and managers considered Wheeler to have an arsenal of “untapped potential”. He was already throwing his fastball in the upper 90s and had one of Major League Baseball’s hardest sliders.
In his most recent start last Sunday, Wheeler had his fastball averaging 97 mph in every inning, from the first to the ninth, in his complete game shutout against the New York Mets. Wheeler allowed just two hits and zero earned runs, while striking out eleven. He retired 22 consecutive batters on the day that the Phillies honored Roy Halladay. The last pitcher to accomplish such a feat in a Phillies uniform was Doc himself when he threw a perfect game on May 29, 2010.
Since the start of the season, Wheeler cemented himself as one of the top pitchers in the National League, eventually making his first All-Star appearance. Now, as we approach the month of September, Wheeler is arguably the favorite to walk away with the NL Cy Young award.
Through 23 starts, Wheeler sits at 10-6 with an ERA of 2.42. As far as league leaders go he sits at or near the top of almost every major pitching category.
Wheeler leads the majors in innings (156), strikeouts (181), complete games (3), and shutouts (2). On the season, he has a 2.42 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. He ranks second to only Shohei Ohtani in wins above replacement in the entire MLB. His ERA sits just outside the top five at sixth-best in the league.
For the first time in a long time, the Phillies are holding pocket aces. Nola and Wheeler are undoubtedly among the top pitching duos in the National League right now. It is definitely fair to say that Aaron Nola has struggled at times this season, but when he is locked in, it’s hard to ignore the one-two punch the Phillies have in their rotation. Through four innings against the Dodgers before a one hour and 44 minute rain delay that caused him to be pulled from the game, Aaron Nola allowed just one hit and struck out seven batters, five of which came on curveballs in only four innings of work.
Wheeler’s stellar pitching, along with an MVP campaign from Bryce Harper, finds the Phillies in a tight division race to close the season. The Phillies currently sit atop of the National League East with a half game advantage on the New York Mets in second place, and a game advantage on the Atlanta Braves in third place. After losing 2-of-3 to a very good Dodgers team, the Phillies will open up a weekend series tonight against the Cincinnati Reds, who are in second place in the National League Central.
Zack Wheeler will be on the mound tonight. If the Phillies can continue to build off a fantastic start to the month of August, Wheeler will have a great opportunity to showcase his talents in the bright lights of the postseason and will likely walk away with the National League Cy Young Award when it’s all said and done.
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports