Can Zack Wheeler rekindle the Phillies-Mets rivalry?

Prior to signing with Philadelphia this offseason, Zack Wheeler spent the first five years of his career in the Big Apple. He was stellar there when healthy. Wheeler, 29, has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency in his career. Despite this, he possesses elite stuff — his 97-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors in 2019. The Phillies view Wheeler as a guy with little mileage, and ready to break out. Thus, Zack signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the righty in December.

When in the City…

Almost any Mets’ fan knows the story of Wheeler. When he was healthy and locked in, he was a no-doubt-about-it ace. However, for the half of his career where he wasn’t 100%, Wheeler was maybe a third guy in New York’s rotation.

Wheeler has an interesting story. He missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in both 2015 and 2016. During 2017, and even parts of 2019, he spent time on the injured list with “shoulder fatigue.” He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can’t be ignored.

New York Mets’ pitcher’s records are drastically skewed in regards to talent (just ask Jacob Degrom), however Wheeler flashes a 44-38 winning record. His career 3.77 ERA is a bit spiked due to a down 2017 season, where he peaked at 5.53. In the past two seasons, Wheeler has thrown 182.1 and 195.1 innings, a good sign that he is back into good form since his injury.

In total, Wheeler, despite being almost 30 years of age, has only tossed 749.1 innings, showing he has little mileage. To put this into perspective, Aaron Nola, 26, has already pitched in nearly 30 more innings.

Meanwhile, it’s no secret that the Phillies have suffered back to back second-half collapses in their seasons, resulting to no playoff games. Zack Wheeler hopes to continue his late surges to support the Phils:

The News

The Phillies wound up getting one of the Mets’ better pitchers without New York getting anything in return. The Mets, who do have a solid rotation already, could have only benefited from Wheeler’s carousel of pitches.

With Spring Training underway, the media is beginning to redirect some attention to baseball again. The hard-throwing right-hander was asked about what he looks to get out of this season. His response was pure joy to Phillies’ fans:

“I want to go out there and win a Cy Young or two and make the All-Star team and carry us into the playoffs. That’s my goal now…”

Soon enough, this was followed up by a question from the New York Post. Wheeler explained how he “heard crickets” when asking the Mets if they were giving him an offer, and that’s just “how they roll.”

This did not sit well with Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who clapped back at Wheeler’s comments:

I’m not sure about any of you, but the Phillies-Mets rivalry back during the Howard/Utley/Rollins era was iconic. Not only were the Phillies the better team, but it provided that spark and fun into baseball. This is exactly what Philly needs this season.

If acquiring Zack Wheeler and his confidence is what this Phillies’ team needed for this to happen, then his contract just became priceless.

The Phillies kick off their Spring Training schedule against the Tigers next Saturday.

Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

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