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July 10, 2024

Phillies pitching confidence: Zack Wheeler stays brilliant, but gets pulled early approaching All-Star break

Wheeler felt back tightness in Tuesday night's win over the Dodgers, but is expected to make his next start. Meanwhile, Aaron Nola stays steady, but Ranger Suárez struggles.

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Zack-Wheeler-Phillies-staff_071024_USAT Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

If he isn't too seriously hurt from Tuesday night, Zack Wheeler has a real shot at winning his first Cy Young award.

The Phillies' starting pitching staff is at a fascinating crossroads right now. With the trade deadline and All-Star break both fast approaching, Philly's rotation is among the best in the majors in basically every category.

CategoryStatMLB Rank
Complete games31st
Batting Avg.2221st

However, they have no reliable and healthy fifth starter, their undisputed ace left his start Tuesday night with an injury, and their unexpected ace has been awful recently. Will the Phillies bolster their starting pitching at the deadline? Or do they have faith in health and bounce backs from their arms?

Who should you trust right now in the rotation, and how much? Here's a look at our confidence ratings in the Phillies' current starters: 

Zack Wheeler, 9/10

10-4, 2.70 ERA, 126 K, 116.2 IP

Wheeler was yanked after tossing five impressive innings against the Dodgers on Tuesday due to lower back tightness. Manager Rob Thomson said afterward that the move was more of a precaution and that Wheeler should be able to make his next start (via Phillies Nation). If so, Wheeler is hands down the most trustworthy starter on the Phillies' roster, as can be seen in his numbers. He's an All-Star yet again and BetMGM has Wheeler as a slight NL Cy Young favorite over the Braves' Chris Sale.

Aaron Nola, 8/10

10-4, 3.48 ERA, 107 K, 113.2 IP

If we had done this two weeks ago, the No. 2 spot would have been Suárez's running away. But as we'll get into shortly, he's had a couple of really bad outings while Nola has been a steady machine on the mound in recent weeks. His last four starts have all been quality ones, and while he might not be the Phillies starter most likely to throw a shutout every fifth day, he is certainly very likely to give the Phillies a very good chance of winning week in and week out.

Cristopher Sánchez, 7/10

6-4, 2.96 ERA, 82 K, 97.1 IP

Sánchez is a solid seven right now, as he's relatively unproven and a bit inconsistent. But when he's good, it's masterful. Over a three-game stretch of starts from June 17 to June 28, Sánchez was 3-0 with a single earned run allowed over 23 innings pitched — including a shutout. In his most recent outing, he allowed seven runs in four frames. He's got the stuff, and he's worth a healthy dose of confidence.

Ranger Suárez, 6.5/10

10-4, 2.58 ERA, 106 K, 108 IP

Through his first 16 starts, Suárez was absolutely magnificent. He had a 1.82 ERA, 10-2 record, averaged more than a strikeout per inning pitched, and was getting real NL Cy Young buzz. In his two most recent starts, however, he allowed 11 earned runs after allowing 20 runs across all of his starts prior. We are not throwing the towel in on Suárez — far from it. But back-to-back stinkers have him in our fourth spot right now. If he returns to form in his final start before his first All-Star game, he will surely be deserving of the confidence he had from fans and teammates earlier this summer. 

The No. 5 spot, 4/10

6-4, 4.40 ERA, 86 K, 94 IP

The Phillies are currently in limbo here. Taijuan Walker was...okay. He had a 3-3 record and a 5.80 ERA in 10 starts before he hit the injured list but he never fully looked right. There's a chance he returns after the All-Star break, and due to the bags of cash they promised him in free agency two years ago, the Phillies will give Walker every opportunity to seize his role in the rotation. 

Phillies fans were hoping for more Spencer Turnbull, who had a 1.78 ERA in seven starting opportunities, but he's also hurt and could miss more time than Walker. The last two starts went to Michael Mercado, who looks probable to get at least one more attempt before the break. He had a rough time in his second career start against Atlanta, allowing five runs and being knocked out in the second inning.

It seems unlikely that the Phillies will trade for a fifth starter. They like their options, they know they only need four guys in the postseason, and they want to bolster their depth in the bullpen and outfield. So this spot will probably be a drag for the next few months.

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