Phillies: Starting pitching key in must-win Rays series

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Phillies starting pitchers will be the key for them to get a needed sweep against the Rays this weekend

The Philadelphia Phillies enter their weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays within a game of a postseason spot — either as second place in the National League East or as one of the two Wild Card teams.

Given the stakes, the Phillies have their two best pitchers scheduled to start this weekend. The probable starters, according to, are Vince Velasquez on Friday, Zack Wheeler on Saturday, and Aaron Nola on Sunday.

After some recent up-and-downs, and with a good pitching staff in the opposing clubhouse, these Phillies starters will be the key to a needed series sweep.

Velasquez, Wheeler and Nola gave up a combined 26 earned runs in 12 September starts

Velasquez had a great last outing, giving up only one earned run off of two hits and three walks, while striking out six, across six innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. He got the win in that game after giving up four earned runs off of seven hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings in his previous outing against the Miami Marlins.

Going back another start, Velasquez did well, giving up two earned runs off of seven hits, while striking out nine, in five innings. Despite good pitching as of late, he still carries a 5.46 ERA on the season.

For Wheeler, his last outing ended in a loss, giving up three runs (two earned) off of five hits and three walks, while striking out seven, in 5 2/3 innings against the Washington Nationals.

Although he gave up five or more hits in nine of his 10 starts this season, Wheeler has yet to surrender more than three runs in a game and has pitched six or more innings in seven of his starts. He also doesn’t walk many batters. With a 2.67 ERA, he has been reliable more times than not.

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And, Nola enters the series on a bit of a cold streak, recording a loss in two of his last four starts. His last outing against the Nationals saw five runs (three earned) off of six hits and two walks in six innings.

Nola has surrendered 16 runs over his last four starts, though only 11 were earned. The one exception to this cold streak was an outing against the Marlins, where he pitched seven shutout innings, with no walks and only three hits, while striking out 10.

He also pitched a gem against the Nationals right before this cold stretch, giving up two hits and three walks, while striking out nine, in eight shutout innings. He has a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts this season.

Phillies pitchers will need to keep up with their Rays counterparts

In team statistics, the Rays have among the best team ERA and WHIP in Major League Baseball, while their runner allowed per game is among the fewest.

The scheduled Rays starter for Friday is former Phillies RHP Charlie Morton, who has a 4.64 ERA in eight starts. There are no current Rays probable pitchers listed for Saturday and Sunday.

Blake Snell’s 3.24 ERA is the best among Rays starters and their bullpen has done really well. Closer Nick Anderson has a 0.59 ERA and six saves, while reliever Diego Castillo has a 1.74 ERA and four saves. A number of relievers could serve as closer if needed, with the team’s 21 saves divided across 12 pitchers.

The Phillies offense will have their work cut out for them against a tough Rays pitching staff, making it even more important for the Phillies starters to do well and provide length against a Rays offense that’s not as great.

In team statistics through Wednesday, the Rays had a .237 batting average (20th-best in MLB) and .754 OPS (13th-best), while producing 4.81 runs per game (11th-best). The Rays batters led the league with 575 strikeouts against them as well.

The scheduled starters for the Phillies have the potential to pitch really well, especially against the Rays offense. With a postseason spot on the line, Velasquez, Wheeler and Nola will be the key to a needed series sweep.

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