Series Preview: Phillies Head to Windy City for 3-Game Set

Phillies Strahm
Philadelphia Phillies’ Matt Strahm pitches during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Saturday, June 29, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After a wild ending to this past weekend’s series against the Miami Marlins, the Phillies hit the road, kicking off a six-game road trip in Chicago. The Phillies returned from their trip to London and dropped two series against American League East teams.

Since then, they won three straight and split the four-game series against their National League East compatriots. Tuesday through Thursday this week, they’ll step inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs.

Phillies Keep Leading the Way

Despite being 10-10 over their previous 20 games (starting with the London finale) – their worst 20 games stretch of 2024 so far – Philly still holds the best record in the National League, and they hold an eight-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the division. When Philadelphia dropped Game 2 of the London Series back on June 9, they held a nine-game lead. So despite playing .500 during that time, the Braves have only gained one game on the Phillies.

Chicago was looked at as potentially competing for the lead in the National League Central coming into the season and they started competitive, but since May 1 they hold the worst record in the NL at 21-34. During that same stretch, Philadelphia has the best record in baseball. Not only are these teams trending in different directions, but to make matters worse – Philly is riding a five-game winning streak against the Cubbies. Let’s preview the mid-week action.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryson Stott follows through after hitting a run-scoring fielder’s choice against Miami Marlins pitcher Kyle Tyler during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pitching Matchups

Tonight will see Phillies rookie Michael Mercado make his first big league start, just as manager Rob Thomson suggested would be the case shortly before Spencer Turnbull was placed on the 15-day injured list. He made his big league debut just over a week ago in Detroit on June 24. The 25-year-old pitched one scoreless inning, striking out one. He had been operating as a starter at Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to his June call-up and posted a 1.71 ERA and 44:23 K:BB in 47.1 innings there. Thomson spoke about the potential pitch limit for the rookie when asked by the media prior to this past Saturday’s game:

He’s been up to 90 so he’s in pretty good shape. I wouldn’t take him over that, I don’t think

Rob Thomson pregame June 29, 2024

Mercado will be opposed by RHP Hayden Wesneski (2-4, 3.60 ERA). Wesneski has mostly been a spot starter this season, holding a solid ERA (3.10) when starting a game for his club. The third-year player has not faced Phillies hitters often but has held those he has to a combined 4-for-20 (.200).

Wednesday’s match-up will see two aces do battle, as Zack Wheeler (9-4, 2.73 ERA) toes the rubber opposite rookie phenom Shota Imanaga (7-2, 3.07 ERA). Despite his rookie status, the 30-year-old Imanaga is no stranger to pitching at a high level. He was a top pitcher coming out of Japan this past season. After being near the NL ERA leaders for the majority of the season, Imanaga had a very rough outing on June 21. He allowed 10 earned runs in just 3.1 innings against the Mets.

Phillies Sanchez
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cristopher Sanchez reacts after the Phillies won a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

He rebounded a bit in his last start and has allowed three earned runs or less in all but two of his starts this year. The left-hander holds an 18:1 K:BB ratio against LHH this season.

Cubs hitters have handled Wheeler well in their career, especially the big hitters in Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ. They and Nico Hoerner have combined to go 11-for-28 against Wheeler in their careers with seven home runs. All five of Bellinger’s hits off the Phillies righty have ended up in the stands.

Thursday’s series finale will have another strong pitching duel as Cristopher Sánchez (6-3, 2.41 ERA) duke it out with Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.03 ERA). After a tough first season in Chicago last year, Taillon seems to be pitching like the guy Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed a 4-year, $68 million deal before 2023. He has been consistent all season, and there doesn’t seem to be a drastic difference in any of his splits. Kody Clemens, Alec Bohm, and Nick Castellanos are a combined 7-for-15 against Taillon, and Brandon Marsh has two hits – both home runs – against the veteran right-hander.

Sánchez will look to continue to celebrate signing his contract extension in style, after doing something only one other LHP has done over the last 40 years.

Philly’s lanky lefty dominated the Marlins this past weekend with a complete game, three-hit shutout. Rob Thomson spoke highly of Sánchez all weekend long.

“I’m so proud of this kid, because he’s come so far and now he’s a dominant pitcher, really, in major league baseball. You see him a couple years ago and I didn’t think he’d be able to do it, but he’s worked hard. He’s trusted his coaches in the minor leagues and his coaches here, and it’s phenomenal.

Rob Thomson post-game June 28, 2024

In Conclusion

Despite being without the core of their lineup, Philly has a chance to continue building momentum before the two biggest series of the season so far: a road tilt in Atlanta vs. the Braves, and a trip back to Citizens Bank Park where they’ll welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hearing from players and the manager over the weekend – it doesn’t matter who’s not in the lineup, because the guys who are in it, are more than ready to shoulder the responsibility.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)