What to expect from the Opening Day matchup between aces Zack Wheeler and Spencer Strider

What can we expect from the two Opening Day starters? Let's take a deeper dive into this exceptional pitching matchup.

Philadelphia Phillies ace Zack Wheeler will take the mound for Opening Day against Atlanta Braves ace Spencer Strider
Philadelphia Phillies ace Zack Wheeler will take the mound for Opening Day against Atlanta Braves ace Spencer Strider / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

It has been 155 days since the Philadelphia Phillies last played a meaningful baseball game. Everyone in the Phillies organization and the Phillies faithful have been counting down the days until they can put the bad taste of the NLCS Game 7 loss behind them and look toward a new campaign.

Well, Opening Day is finally upon us.

The roster is finalized, the Phillies are back in Philadelphia, and the stage is set for the Atlanta Braves to return to 40,000+ screaming fans at Citizens Bank Park.

Waiting for the vaunted Braves lineup will be Zack Wheeler, toeing the mound for his first career Opening Day start. On the other side, the Phillies' arch nemesis, Spencer Strider, will also be making his first Opening Day start (subscription required), as reported by David O'Brien
of The Athletic.

This is as high-profile, high-quality, and as star-studded a pitching matchup as you could cobble together for the 2024 season. Wheeler and Strider are the top two pitchers in MLB by projected fWAR, according to FanGraphs. They lead two of the best teams in baseball, both with World Series aspirations, who just happen to be in the same division.

Opening Day starters bring high expectations into the 2024 season

Both starters have extremely high expectations for the 2024 season, and the baseball world is in for a treat on Opening Day. Let’s dive into each of these aces and dissect what we could see on Thursday.

Spencer Strider is a 25-year-old right-hander who made his presence in the league known immediately. In his rookie year in 2022, he made a name for himself and was looked at as one of the game's best arms. In 2023, he finished fourth in Cy Young voting and was elected to his first All-Star game.

He ended the year with an inflated 3.86 ERA but pitched to a 2.85 FIP, which was the second-best in baseball. He led the league with 281 strikeouts, 13.5 K/9, and 20 wins. He registered 5.5 fWAR, which was second among pitchers.

Who did he finish behind in fWAR? You guessed it, Zack Wheeler.

In 2023, Wheeler compiled 5.9 fWAR, which led the league for pitchers. He finished sixth in Cy Young voting and won his first Gold Glove Award. He finished the season with a 3.61 ERA but similar to Strider, his FIP (3.15) and WHIP (1.078) were low.

Both pitchers are coming off extremely successful 2023 seasons and expect 2024 to be the same or better.

Both aces put together stellar spring trainings

Not only was 2023 successful for these stars, but their respective spring trainings couldn’t have been better.

In the four games that Wheeler started this spring, he threw 14 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs on six hits for an ERA of 1.26 and a WHIP of 0.628. He struck out 14 batters and walked just three.

The biggest news from Wheeler’s spring is the unveiling of a new pitch that he has been working on. The Phillies ace decided he needed more weapons and introduced a splitter. Over his four starts, he threw his new pitch 18 times, with velocity ranging from 84.9 to 88.4 mph.

As good as Wheeler was this spring, Strider was even better. Across six games, he threw 22 2/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs and 15 hits for a 0.79 ERA and 1.015 WHIP. He struck out 35 batters and allowed just eight walks.

Similar to Wheeler, Strider wasn’t content going into the season with the same repertoire. He unveiled his own new weapon, a curveball that ranges between 81 and 83 mph.

Both Wheeler and Strider know this is an adjustment league, and they were savvy enough to continue improving and adding more arrows to their quiver.

Wheeler and Strider have impressive track records against each other's team, in the regular season

While both pitchers have major success against the rest of the league, they also perform exceptionally well against their NL East rival.

In eight regular season games against the Phillies, Strider has an impressive 8-0 record with a 1.90 ERA and 72 strikeouts. He has limited the Phillies to just 25 hits and four home runs over those eight games.

On the other hand, in Wheeler’s entire career, which is much longer than Strider’s, Wheeler has a 12-7 record with a 3.18 ERA and 172 strikeouts over 27 regular season appearances against the Braves. 14 of the 27 appearances came while he was still with the New York Mets, well before he became the pitcher he is today.

The postseason, however, is a completely different story. As we all remember, Strider doesn’t love playing in Philadelphia. That’s probably because of his first career playoff start where he surrendered five runs in just 2 1/3 innings. If you don’t remember that game, maybe a certain bat spike will spark your memory.

His next two playoff starts, which also came against the Phillies, didn’t live up to Strider’s high expectations. Over those two starts, he gave up three runs, 12 hits, and five walks in just 12 2/3 innings. Nick Castellanos will surely remember those games because of his two monstrous home runs against the Braves ace.

Against the Braves, the Wheeler playoff story isn’t much better. Although Wheeler has had incredible playoff success, against the NL East foe he has given up a combined five earned runs, seven hits, and two walks over 12 1/3 innings. He has, however, punched out 15 Braves batters in his two career postseason starts against them.

Whether you’re a fan of the Phillies or Braves, or just a fan of baseball, we’re all in for a treat as the league's best go head-to-head in Game 1 of 162.