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June 23, 2024

Phillies quick hits: Nick Castellanos heats up as Zack Wheeler, Cristopher Sánchez dismantle D-backs

The Phillies took two of three in the NLCS rematch against Arizona with stellar starts from Wheeler and Sánchez and bats that are heating up with the weather.

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Nick-Castellanos-RBI-Single-Phillies-DBacks-6.23.24-MLB.jpg Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Nick Castellanos has been crushing the baseball of late.

The Phillies took two of three in their NLCS rematch against the Diamondbacks this weekend. 

For the folks watching at home, you needed two different streaming services to watch two of the games, and needed the coffee brewing on Sunday morning for an 11:30 a.m. start. 

Anyway, the Phils dropped the opener on Friday night after honoring Cole Hamels' retirement, then proceeded to beat the brakes off the D-backs on Saturday and shut them down on Sunday for their second straight series win since returning home to Citizens Bank Park.

Also, to another note across the street in Philly sports that dropped as Sunday's series finale was being played: MATVEI MICHKOV IS GOING TO BE A PHILADELPHIA FLYER.

But back to the Phils and the highlights from the series that was...

Swing angry

Friday night's series opener was winnable, but the Phillies just couldn't put it fully together

Taijuan Walker struggled to keep his velocity and got tagged for three homers due to inflammation in his right index finger, which now has him on the Injured List, and while Trea Turner and Nick Castellanos each homered, they couldn't find that last run they needed against Jordan Montgomery and the Arizona bullpen. 

Saturday though?

Bryce Harper, to the second deck:

Alec Bohm, one at-bat later to left-center:

Then Castellanos a couple of innings later, absolutely crushed:

And David Dahl, teeing off on the position player pitching for good measure:

A stress-free day for the Phils on the way to delivering a 12-1 drubbing. 

A brutal day for the Diamondbacks and all those baseballs getting launched off the bat like heat-seeking missiles. 

Wheeler bounces back

And a big boost to that on the other side was Zack Wheeler rebounding from his bad start in Baltimore last week, tossing seven innings of one-run ball with only two hits allowed and eight sent down for his ninth win of the season. 

Wheeler has been dominant all year so far, and consistency hasn't been an issue either. You can count the number of bad Wheeler starts on only one hand with last week against the Orioles included. 

Still, it was good to see him get right back to his Cy Young caliber self so quickly.

Who let Nick Castellanos get hot?

In the past five games entering Sunday morning, Castellanos had just been destroying the ball, going 10-for-19 with four doubles, two homers, seven runs batted in, and a bonkers 1.576 OPS. 

He did have that fumble in left field Friday night, but other than that, it's been an extremely good week for him, which included that 5-RBI outburst on Saturday and then the single that drove in the first run on Sunday.

What's the root of it? Well, we've got three possible explanations – or maybe a mix of all of them:

• 1. Trea Turner returned from injury and to the lineup, which pushed Castellanos further back down to a more comfortable fifth spot. 

• 2. His son Liam finished school and is back around the ballpark again

• 3. The laptop of Phillies Nation's Tim Kelly offered itself as sacrifice to the Baseball Gods by way of a Castellanos foul ball.

Either way, he's in a rhythm, and that's a massive plus for the Phillies (but sorry about your laptop, Tim).

Sánchez in the spotlight

Cristopher Sánchez signed his four-year contract extension on Saturday then took the mound the next day and mowed straight through the Diamondbacks with seven scoreless innings on an ultra-efficient 80 pitches (54 of which were strikes). 

Arizona could only manage three hits off of him, with their best shot at doing any kind of damage coming in the first when Christian Walker launched a fly ball to the right-center wall. But with two outs and a runner on, Brandon Marsh took the opportunity away, leaping along the fence to make the grab and get the Phillies out of the inning. 

Sánchez gave them next to nothing from there, going on to notch his fifth win of the season, and after lowering his ERA to 2.67 with the outing, quite possibly having put himself into All-Star consideration, too.

"He was brilliant today," manager Rob Thosmon, who was in agreement, said postgame. "He really was. All his pitches were working."

"It's incredible," Sánchez said through Spanish interpreter Diego D'Aniello after a whirlwind week. "Signing an extension yesterday and then having this outing today...But we have to keep going. We have to keep doing things right and keep competing."

Instant observations: Sánchez throws seven shutout innings in win over D-backs

Schwarber in the outfield

Kyle Schwarber made a start in left field again with Saturday's game and that may not be the last time we see that this season either. 

Yes, the designated hitter spot has been kept specifically for him at the top of the Phillies' 2024 batting order, and it's been hammered home before that having him in the outfield isn't exactly ideal defensively. 

But the fielding held up on Saturday – neither club was charged with an error – Schwarber went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI double in the rout while taking on outfield duties, and looking down the line, him going back into the outfield on occasion is probably going to help keep J.T. Realmuto in the lineup once he's cleared to return from knee surgery if he can take a share of time as the DH – something's Paul Casella noted when Saturday's lineup was posted. 

A couple of years back, when the Phillies' defense was a real sore spot, club president Dave Dombrowski said something along the lines of the gloves not needing to be elite to get by, just good enough. And for the most part, he was right, because that team ended up going to the World Series. 

Overall talent and structure-wise, these Phillies are in much better shape now than they were then, but if the trade-off is giving Realmuto games as the DH in order to manage his health the rest of the way at the cost of putting Schwarber back in left field on the days where they do it, they might be OK with defense that takes a hit but can toe the line of "good enough."

MORE: Orion Kerkering thriving in first full season with Phillies

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