Philadelphia Phillies’ nation held their breath after a 24-pitch first inning from Zack Wheeler in Game 1 of the National League Series. What followed was akin to unbuckling your pants after Thanksgiving dinner.
Zack Wheeler couldn’t be stopped.
In his third-ever postseason appearance, the veteran right-hander allowed just one hit across 7.0 innings while striking out eight. The turkey, stuffing, and gravy, baby.
While Mets fans commiserate over the loss of Wheeler and a quiet Citi Field, the Phillies are now heading into Game 2 with an advantage and one game closer to their first World Series appearance since 2008.
So let’s examine what this magnificent nightcap means for the Phillies and Zack Wheeler moving forward and where it stacks up against the rest of an impressive 2022 campaign.
Why was this Wheeler’s best game of 2022?
Keeping the bases free and clean.
Here’s the argument for this being his most efficient appearance of 2022, not including the apparent magnitude of opening up the NLCS.
In all of ’22, Wheeler has only one other start in which he allowed only one hit. That was against the Colorado Rockies, a far inferior group, in late April. He also walked four that day.
Furthermore, there have only been two starts this season where Wheeler allowed two or fewer baserunners: one being the Arizona Diamondbacks in mid-June and the other his final start of the ’22 regular season against the Washington Nationals.
Wheeler controlled the bases all night, and he did so better than he has all season.
Not a prayer the Padres are catching up.
Zack Wheeler has struck out eight or more this season on eight separate occasions.
In that matchup with the Padres, Wheeler threw 68% of his pitches for strikes. Last night, he was a notch better, throwing 71% for strikes.
What’s more, in Game 1, 29% of his total strikes thrown were swinging strikes. He’s mowing through the Padres and making them dance while he’s doing it.
Zack Wheeler is not only effective but efficient.
Zack Wheeler saw 22 total batters last night. The regular season tells us that it typically takes him about 93.3 pitches to get through that much of the lineup.
Now in two postseason starts against the Braves and Padres, which each featured 22 total batters, he’s averaged just 81 pitches.
The strikeouts have been there, but he’s also pitching to contact, trusting his defense, and getting through the order very quickly. Almost like he’s in a groove or something.
One in particular Postseason comparison
I’ll leave you with this: John Smoltz has been annoying the hell out of Phillies fans.
So then, I looked at how he stacked up against Wheeler, and the numbers from their first seasons in the playoffs are scarily similar.
Granted, Smoltz made his playoff debut in 1991 at age 24 versus the 32-year-old Wheeler but good tidings if your baseline is a Hall of Famer, even if he is an Atlanta Brave.
So if we can’t get Smoltz to stop his yapping, at least you can rest easy knowing that Wheeler has a future in broadcasting.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez