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March 15, 2023

Phillies 2023 preview: How will the starting rotation fill out?

The Phillies' rotation is as deep as it's been in years, but questions remain with the No. 5 spot as top prospect Andrew Painter deals with a Spring Training injury.

The Phillies are in the midst of an important spring training. After finishing the season two wins from a championship, the defending NL champions will have to quiet the doubters again — this time with an even higher payroll and tougher expectations to match.

Philly currently carries +1600 odds to win the World Series in 2023, the eighth best via OddsShark. They are third to win the NL East (+325) behind the Braves and Mets.

Before the team hits the field in central Texas to open their 2023 campaign against the Rangers on March 30, we're going to take a deep dive into each positional group.

Let's take a look at the Fightins' rotation...

Scouting report

The Phillies have a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Wheeler dealt with injuries a bit in 2022, but in his three years in red pinstripes, he's posted a 2.82 ERA, striking out 9.5 batters per innings. Among starters who've pitched at least 400 innings since the beginning of 2020, the only other guy who's matched or bested Wheeler's ERA and SO/9 numbers is 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes (via Stathead). Wheeler finished as the runner-up that year.

A season where Wheeler contends for the Cy Young again is on the table.

Nola has been a divisive figure among the fan base over the last few years. He dropped off a bit after a top-three Cy Young finish in 2018, but in the 2022 regular season, his talent was on full display. He led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio and his 3.25 ERA was the second-lowest mark of his career. 

In his first postseason last fall, however, that unevenness reared its head. In two starts across the Wild Card round and the NLDS, Nola had 12.2 shutout innings while striking out 12 batters. Great stuff. Things worsened from there though. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he got rocked for six runs in just 4.2 innings in San Diego. In two World Series starts, he lasted only 8.1 total innings with a sky-high 8.64 ERA. 

One hell of a surprise throughout that playoff run was Ranger Suárez, who had a minuscule 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings. That includes him recording wins in both the NLCS and World Series, plus a save in the Phillies' pennant clinching victory at Citizens Bank Park. Suárez is on the rise entering his age-27 season. 

The back end of the rotation will get a boost with the newly acquired Taijuan Walker, who signed a four-year contract worth $72 million this offseason. Walker, 30, had the best season of his career in 2022 with that team up in Flushing, sporting a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts. Walker was a highly touted consensus top-10 prospect in his minor league days and while he's never quite lived up to that billing, he's turned in a solid career that should bring consistency and depth to a rotation that's been too top heavy for too long. 

A question mark lingers with the fifth spot in the Phils' rotation. There appeared to be a shot that hard-throwing top prospect Andrew Painter could grab the spot out of Spring Training. Unfortunately for the Fightins, that plan has gone out the window. After an impressive Grapefruit League debut where Painter was touching 99 MPH on the gun, he had an elbow injury pop up that sidelined him. His injury status remained murky for a bit before the Phillies announced he would miss the next few weeks as he rehabs. That'll keep him out of the rotation once the season begins, but expect him at Citizens Bank Park at some point this summer. 

I'd bet on 25-year-old Bailey Falter nabbing that role in the interim. In 84 innings of work in 2022 (16 starts), Falter had a 3.86 ERA while striking out 7.9 batters per nine innings. The Phillies could do a lot worse there. 

NL East ranking

I'll look at the top-four guys in each team's rotation. Even at their age, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are pitching as well as ever. The Mets' unit is better at the top than the Phillies, making them huge threats in the postseason. Atlanta has a very well-rounded rotation as well. It wouldn't be a surprise if any of the Phillies, Braves or Mets were representing the National League in the World Series. 

Down in Miami, Sandy Alcantara is the reigning National League Cy Young winner. For Washington, Stephen Strasburg is still hanging around, but has made just eight starts over the last three seasons. 

Depth charts are taken from Projections are taken via baseball-reference unless otherwise noted.

TeamNo. 1 (age) 2022 stats2023 proj  Career rWAR
Phillies Zack Wheeler (33)12-7, 2.82 ERA, 163 Ks11-8, 3.08 ERA, 164 Ks24.5
Max Scherzer (38)
11-5, 2.29 ERA, 173 Ks
11-6, 2.86 ERA, 172 Ks
BravesMax Fried (29)14.7, 2.48 ERA, 170 Ks13-7, 2.93 ERA, 157 Ks17.1
MarlinsSandy Alcantara (27)14-9, 2.28 ERA, 207 Ks11-10, 2.86 ERA, 183 Ks16.7
NationalsStephen Strasburg (34)
0-1, 13.50 ERA, 5 Ks3-5, 4.57 ERA, 60 Ks30.9

TeamNo. 2 (age) 2022 stats2023 proj  Career rWAR
Phillies Aaron Nola (30)11-13, 3.25 ERA, 235 Ks10-11, 3.73 ERA, 204 Ks29.9
Justin Verlander (40)
18-4, 1.75 ERA, 185 Ks
12-5, 2.55 ERA, 145 Ks
BravesCharlie Morton (39)9-6, 4.34 ERA, 205 Ks10-7, 4.04 ERA, 178 Ks15.4
MarlinsJesús Luzardo (25)4-7, 3.32 ERA, 120 Ks6-8, 4.23 ERA,  123 Ks1.9
NationalsPatrick Corbin (33)
6-19, 6.31 ERA, 128 Ks7-5, 5.49 ERA, 131 Ks14.1

TeamNo. 3 (age) 2022 stats2023 proj  Career rWAR
Phillies Ranger Suárez (27)10-7, 3.65 ERA, 129 Ks9-7, 3.22 ERA, 123 Ks8.2
José Quintana (34)
6-7, 2.93 ERA, 137 Ks
5-7, 3.73 ERA. 129 Ks
BravesKyle Wright  (27)21-5, 3.19 ERA, 174 Ks14-6, 3.58 ERA, 144 Ks3.1
MarlinsJohnny Cueto (37)8-10, 3.35 ERA, 102 Ks8-9, 3.87 ERA,  114 Ks38.7
NationalsJosiah Gray (25)
7-10, 5.02 ERA, 154 Ks7-8, 4.60 ERA, 145 Ks0.3

TeamNo. 4 (age) 2022 stats2023 proj  Career rWAR
Phillies Taijuan Walker (30)12-5, 3.49 ERA, 132 Ks10-8, 3.80 ERA, 136 Ks9.8
Kodai Senga (34)
11-6, 1.89 ERA, 159 Ks (Japan)12-9, 3.46 ERA, 175 Ks (ZiPS projection)0.0
BravesSpencer Strider (24)11-5, 2.67 ERA, 202 Ks9-5, 3.11 ERA, 147 Ks3.7
MarlinsTrevor Rogers (25)4-11, 5.47 ERA, 106 Ks6-9, 4.04 ERA, 135 Ks2.8
NationalsCade Cavalli (24)
0-1, 14.54 ERA, 6 Ks3-4, 4.21 ERA, 61 Ks-0.3

Phillies' future

As mentioned, Painter is a stud. On's prospect rankings, he's the highest-ranked pitcher on the list at No. 6 overall. Righty Mick Abel comes in at No. 48 on the list. Griff McGarry isn't far behind them, ranked No. 3 in the Phillies' organization. 

All three could see time in the majors this year, especially given that uncertainty with the No. 5 spot and the inevitability of injuries that pop up. They all have legit major-league stuff, potentially giving manager Rob Thomson some intriguing relief pitcher opportunities during the stretch run and into the postseason, too. 

Here are that trio's minor league stats for 2022:

 Player LevelsInnings ERA Ks 
Painter A/A+/AA 103.2 1.56 155 
Abel A+/AA  108.1 3.90 130
McGarry A+/AA/AAA87.1 3.71 130 

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | OF | SP | RP

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