It seemed like the Phillies might have only one All-Star representative in Zack Wheeler, but J.T. Realmuto is headed to Coors Field as well.
Both Phillies were named to the NL squad Sunday night. They were selected by a combination of player ballots and choices made by the commissioner’s office.
Wheeler making his first All-Star team was a no-brainer. He has had a Cy Young-caliber first half with a 2.05 ERA through 17 starts. He leads the majors with 114 innings and 139 strikeouts.
On Friday night against a loaded Padres lineup, Wheeler made his MLB-leading fifth start of the season of at least seven scoreless innings. He's averaged just under seven innings per game for a team that has seldom been able to get through the eighth and ninth unscathed.
“It's pretty cool. It's kind of what you dream about growing up,” Wheeler said Sunday. “But yeah, to actually go out there, I've always kind of struggled the first half or the first couple months, I always kind of shot it down kind of quick. But to be this consistent for this long means a lot to me also. The hard work is paying off now.
"I haven't won many awards. I don't even think I've won anything since I've been in the big leagues, no Player of the Week or Month or whatever it may be. This is pretty cool, right? This is one of the biggest ones besides Cy Young or something like that. I can tell my son and future kids I was an All-Star. It's pretty cool."
Wheeler has exceeded expectations since signing a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies in December 2019. He had a 2.92 ERA in 11 starts in the shortened 2020 season and has been significantly better this year.
Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees a week after Wheeler signed with the Phillies. Here's how the two have performed since Cole signed for an additional $206 million:
- Wheeler (28 starts): 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 185 IP, 192 K, 41 BB, 10 HR allowed
- Cole (29 starts): 2.88 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 178 IP, 229 K, 37 BB, 29 HR allowed
Wheeler's excellence has been recognized but every pitcher in the National League this season has taken a backseat to Jacob deGrom, who is having one of the best years ever for a pitcher. In his last start, deGrom allowed three first-inning runs to the Braves but was untouchable from there and struck out 14. He has a 0.95 ERA in 85 innings with 136 strikeouts and 47 baserunners allowed.
"It's amazing," Brad Miller said of watching Wheeler. "With deGrom doing what he's doing, it doesn't get talked about enough because deGrom has been amazing historically, but what our guy's doing is Cy Young, MVP, it's all of it.
"He's just on the corners with power stuff, it's incredible. Love his demeanor, he's a workhorse. It's been really special to get to watch him pitch every five days."
DeGrom is the obvious NL Cy Young frontrunner as the All-Star break approaches, with Kevin Gausman (1.68 ERA) and Wheeler trailing.
"It's very a select and small (group)," Wheeler said. "That does mean something to me that I am one of the top pitchers right now. Hope I can just continue that into the second half and just stay consistent."
Wheeler's contributions to the 2021 Phillies have been especially important given the first-half struggles of Aaron Nola and, to an extent, Zach Eflin. Nola has a 4.44 ERA and the Phillies are 8-9 in his starts. Eflin is 3-6 with a 4.13 ERA. The Phillies' pathway to contention revolves around their top three starting pitchers but they're 14-19 in Nola's and Eflin's starts.
They're 10-7 when Wheeler takes the mound even though he could easily be 14-3 himself rather than 6-4.
"I don't know how you can pitch much better," manager Joe Girardi said. "I know there are some people with lower ERAs, deGrom being one of them. You look at the innings he's logged, how deep he gets into games for us, he saves our bullpen, I mean, he's been one of the best pitchers in the game. It's great to have Zack."
Realmuto makes his third straight All-Star Game. (There wasn't one in 2020.) It's a slight surprise as he's slumped of late and is hitting .263/.359/.446 with eight homers and 31 RBI in 248 plate appearances. He hasn't been as much of a defensive standout this season, either.
But Realmuto is well-respected all around the game and particularly by his peers. Reputation never hurts when it comes to the All-Star Game in any sport.
"I was very excited, especially off of the heels of one of the worst slumps of my career, so obviously I wasn't feeling too great about myself," Realmuto said. "But getting called in and (Girardi) letting me know I was making the All-Star Game kind of gave me a lift in spirits and made me excited, for sure.
"I definitely didn't play my best baseball, in my opinion, on either side of the ball. Just have to get more consistent at the plate. I've thrown myself into a pretty big slump the last three weeks or so. I just haven't felt myself. Before that, I was doing OK with the bat, but that kind of put a damper on my first half. I just need to get back to being consistent, being myself, and kind of put the first half behind me."
The game is Tuesday, July 13 in Colorado. Wheeler's next start is slated for Wednesday at Wrigley Field, which would enable him to pitch in the Midsummer Classic.