Zack Wheeler

Mets 9, Phillies 0: No answers for Zack Wheeler at the plate or on the mound

Mets 9, Phillies 0: No answers for Zack Wheeler at the plate or on the mound

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NEW YORK — It was the Zack Wheeler show Tuesday night at Citi Field, in a game Phillies manager Gabe Kapler described as "important" hours earlier in his office.

Wheeler dominated the Phillies on the mound, striking out 11 over seven innings in a 9-0 Mets win.

At the plate, Wheeler hit a two-run double and a solo home run off of Zach Eflin. Wheeler entered the game with a .129 batting average and no home runs in just under 200 career plate appearances.

Todd Frazier broke the game open in the fifth with a grand slam off of Drew Anderson. It came after an intentional walk of Phillie-killer Jeff McNeil.

Kapler referred to it as an important game because of how flat the Phillies had looked in their previous two against the Rockies and Mets. They scored one run in each of those games, and Jake Arrieta had some fiery things to say after Monday's loss.

This was the Phillies' first shutout loss of 2019 and they've been outscored 18-2 since Sunday.

The Phillies certainly did not impress, but from an offensive standpoint, this one was more about Wheeler's electric stuff. From the first inning on, Wheeler threw his fastball consistently at 98 and 99 mph, had a low-90s splitter that was falling off the table and a mid-80s slider that kept hitters off balance. 

You have to remember that Wheeler was 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA after the All-Star break last year. He's a major key not just to the Mets but to this entire NL East race.

The Phillies have lost five of the last six games and are 12-11. The Mets are 13-10.

With two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning of a 9-0 game, Mets reliever Jacob Rhame threw two pitches over Rhys Hoskins' head in the same at-bat. After the first one, Hoskins took a few steps toward the mound and both benches began to come out on the field. The situation was diffused.

A few pitches later, Rhame threw ball four over Hoskins' head. Hoskins slammed his bat against the ground.

It looked like a message from the Mets after they were hit twice in the same inning last night (more on the story here).

Get well soon

The Phillies' offense has been anemic with the hamstring injuries of Jean Segura, Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery. Segura is likely to return Saturday, and Herrera could be back soon after his 10 days on the injured list are up on April 28.

Unlike the first two weeks of the season, there are currently several easy outs to be had in the Phillies' lineup. Roman Quinn has been lost at the plate, going 2 for 21 with 13 strikeouts since being called up. Phil Gosselin is 0 for 12 since his three-run double in Colorado.

The Phillies' only offense against Wheeler came from Maikel Franco, who singled between short and third and later doubled to the opposite field.

Pivetta update

Nick Pivetta made his first start at Triple A Tuesday against Pawtucket. He overcame a wild, 28-pitch first inning to strike out nine over six innings. He allowed four runs.

Harper hitless

Bryce Harper hasn't done much hitting in the five games against the Mets, going 2 for 16 with a pair of singles and eight strikeouts.

What about Williams?

It sounds like Nick Williams will get his first start of the season in the Phillies' upcoming four-game home series against the Marlins. Kapler wants to get Andrew McCutchen off his feet for a day and identified one of the middle games of that series as an opportunity to do so. The Phils face a left-handed starter Thursday in the series opener and in Sunday's finale vs. Miami.

Up next

The Phillies-Mets series concludes Wednesday night with Vince Velasquez (0-0, 2.55) opposing veteran soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas (1-0, 9.58).

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Most underrated players in the NL East

Most underrated players in the NL East

The Phillies, Nationals, Mets and Braves have had active offseasons.

The Phillies have added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.

The Nationals have spent upwards of $183 million in free agency, by far the most of any major-league team.

The Mets added Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Rajai Davis, Keon Broxton and lefty Justin Wilson.

The Braves signed Josh Donaldson, re-signed Nick Markakis and brought back catcher Brian McCann.

There's a lot of top-end talent in the NL East and you know all about the Freddie Freemans and Jacob deGroms of the world. There are also plenty of under-the-radar players in the division.

In Atlanta, Johan Camargo had a better season than practically anyone gave him credit for in 2018, hitting .272 with 19 homers, 76 RBI and an .806 OPS while starting 114 games at third base for the Braves. He becomes a super-sub with Donaldson in ATL.

In Washington, Anthony Rendon is a beast when healthy, hitting .305/.389/.534 the last two seasons with averages of 42 doubles, 24 homers and 96 RBI. He's not just underrated within the division, he might be the most underrated player in the NL. 

Then there are the Phillies and Mets, who each have a starting pitcher entering the season as a No. 3 but with the potential to be a whole lot more.

Mets — Zack Wheeler

Wheeler could be more instrumental to the Mets' success this season than any of their newcomers. His second-half success in 2018 was overshadowed by rotation-mate deGrom, but after the All-Star break, Wheeler was even better than Aaron Nola (by a lot).

In the second half, Wheeler went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 73 and walking 15 with three homers allowed in 75 innings. His opponents hit .179.

Wheeler's 1.68 ERA was third best in the majors after the All-Star break, behind only Blake Snell and Trevor Williams. His opponents' batting average was also third best, behind only Snell and Walker Buehler.

Once a top prospect, Wheeler has dealt with plenty of injuries throughout his time with the Mets. He did not pitch in the majors at all in 2015 or 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of '15.

This past season was Wheeler's coming out party, and much of the improvement had to do with increased velocity (96.5 mph average) and excellent fastball command. 

Between deGrom, Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have a formidable 1-2-3 on par with the Nationals' trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Good thing the Phillies have added some offense.

Phillies — Nick Pivetta

With Pivetta, it's more about the potential and the highs we've seen than the overall production in his two big-league seasons.

Pivetta showed what he's capable of in April and May of 2018. In his first 11 starts, he had a 3.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 58 innings. He limited the walks (14) and homers (five) and missed a ton of bats. 

The rest of the season, you never knew which Pivetta would show up when his turn came in the rotation. There was a lot of boom and a lot of bust. He had 10 starts allowing one run or none. He had eight starts allowing five or six runs.

Pivetta has a big fastball and a slider/curveball combination that show flashes of being plus pitches. Turning 26 on Valentine's Day and entering his third MLB season, this is the time for Pivetta to take a step forward. He is compared often to Vince Velasquez, but Pivetta's control is undoubtedly better.

This past season, Pivetta struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8. There were only 11 pitchers in baseball who hit both marks, and Pivetta's ERA (4.77) was a full run higher than anyone on the list. German Marquez was next at 3.77. 

The peripherals foretell improvement for Pivetta and the Phillies badly need it with all of their rotation questions.

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Phillies have lots of work to reach Braves' level in 2019 and beyond

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Phillies have lots of work to reach Braves' level in 2019 and beyond

There are few things Phillies fans enjoy more than making fun of the Mets.

But if you hadn't noticed, the Mets have gained 10½ games in the standings on the Phillies over the last eight weeks.

Since Aug. 6, the Phillies are 13-25 and the Mets are 25-16.

The offensive numbers of the Braves, Phillies and Mets are telling.

The Braves have hit .259/.325/.424 with 711 runs scored.

The Phillies have hit .238/.316/.399 with 641 runs.

The Mets have hit .236/.312/.393 with 644 runs.

Offensively, the gap between the Phils and Braves this season has been substantial. The gap between the Phils and Mets, sadly, has been negligible.

It's a worrisome sign because the Phillies have so much more offensive talent than the Mets. Yoenis Cespedes has played 38 games this season. Jay Bruce has played 82. Michael Conforto started hitting only recently.

And yet the Phils, with a full season of Rhys Hoskins and the addition of Carlos Santana, haven't been able to muster much more offense.

The Mets have an interesting near future. With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and this new, ace-like version of Zack Wheeler, they have the best 1-2-3 of any National League rotation. A trade for an everyday position player would make a lot of sense. They have many, many questions offensively, mainly because they rarely spend money these days.

The Phillies, meanwhile, must figure out a way before next season to close the gap on the Braves. There is simply no player in the Phils' organization with the skill level of Freddie Freeman or Ronald Acuña Jr. The quickest and most obvious way to close that gap would be by adding Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

The Phillies entered the week with a 97 percent chance of missing the playoffs, according to Fangraphs. Yet still, these remaining seven games with the Braves have meaning. The Phillies have gone 5-7 against the Braves this season, losing three of the four series. Going 5-2 in these games against Atlanta could have a positive psychological benefit for the Phils, the way their 36-36 finish last season did.

This offense just needs some sort of infusion. The Phillies want to see pitches, see pitches, see pitches, make pitchers work, etc. They entered Monday night with 22 more walks than the Mets and 120 more strikeouts. The Phils just don't have enough players to properly enact that offensive philosophy, aside from Hoskins and Santana.

Harper fits the description. Machado is a more aggressive, freer swinger but is obviously a difference-making star.

In all likelihood, the Phils will finish five to seven games behind the Braves in the NL East this season. There are few players in baseball capable of increasing a team's win total by five to seven, but Harper and Machado are two of them.

Either way, the Phillies are observant enough to realize they can't go into 2019 with this offensive personnel.

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