Phillies

Gabe Kapler is happy with sweep, angry with Braves' plunking of Rhys Hoskins

Gabe Kapler is happy with sweep, angry with Braves' plunking of Rhys Hoskins

If the Phillies have the type of season they think they can, the type of season they think they will, they will look back at these three games as the stretch in which they notified the baseball world that they were a team to be reckoned with.

A three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, capped off by Sunday night’s 5-1 win and another Bryce Harper home run, left the Phils as baseball’s only unbeaten team at 3-0.

Statement series?

“No question about it,” winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “There’s something to it. There’s no signs of us being complacent. We’re happy with the way the series ended up, especially with the way the Braves played last year and winning the division. We wanted to come out and set the tone in our park. We really did that. I think it sets the tone for the season.”

There are four teams — the Phils, Braves, Nationals and Mets — talented enough to win the NL East and there are six months to go before this thing is decided. But after three games, we know this: The Phillies’ lineup is a lot more potent than it was last year — witness the eight homers it hit in the series, a franchise record for the first three games of a season — and a pretty interesting rivalry is shaping up between the Phils and Braves.

Manager Gabe Kapler was not happy that Braves reliever Shane Carle plunked Rhys Hoskins with a pitch moments after Harper went deep in the seventh inning Sunday night. It wasn’t the first time that Hoskins, who belted a grand slam on opening day, was pitched high and tight in the series. Carle hit Hoskins in the left shoulder and was ejected by home plate umpire Rob Drake.

“It really pisses me off when balls go underneath Rhys Hoskins' chin,” Kapler said after the game. “It really bugs me.

“He's one of our leaders. He is, in many ways, the heartbeat of our club. It really bothers me when it happens.”

It bothered Hoskins, too.

“I hit the ground three times in three days and that’s never fun, especially after the episode last year,” said Hoskins, who suffered a broken jaw on a foul ball in May.

This is a new Phillies team, with a growing chemistry and desire to have fun. The players celebrate home runs with designer handshakes and little dances and that doesn’t always sit well with opponents.

“Don’t give up a homer then,” Hoskins said.

The Phillies don’t see the Braves again until mid-June and by that time this whole thing might be forgotten. But if it isn’t, the two teams play 16 more times and things could get interesting. In the meantime, it will be worth watching how other teams pitch the Phillies, especially if they keep knocking balls over the wall and whooping it up afterward.

“I appreciate how enthusiastic our players are,” Kapler said. “I think celebration is a part of the game and deserved when guys are swinging the bats really well and feeding off each other's energy. I support our ball club in the way they've come out in these first three games, on the field, off the field, celebrating one another.

“I support the way our club is behaving from start to finish. Everything we're doing on the field and off the field in supporting each other is spot on.”

Arrieta had to grind for six innings in cold, blustery conditions. He survived six walks and a hit batsman. The weather had a lot to do with his control issues. He said the ball felt like a cue ball. Braves pitchers walked nine batters and hit two.

A year ago, the Phillies finished the first series of the season at 1-2 and Kapler was being roasted for some of his moves. This year, the Phils come out of the first series unbeaten, full of emotion and ready to take on Washington in another division series beginning Tuesday.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

at_the_yard_fullscreen.jpg
NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies