Phillies starter being punished the most for team’s characteristic slow start

Zack Wheeler has done everything he can to help the Phillies early on, but his team has left him high and dry.
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler has been victimized by the team's slow start
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler has been victimized by the team's slow start / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A week of Philadelphia Phillies baseball is in the books. It's amazing how quickly the excitement and anticipation that build all offseason, reaching a crescendo before Opening Day, can deflate after one less-than-ideal week.

Seven games into the 2024 season, the Phillies, with all the talk of getting off to a fast start, have stumbled to a 3-4 record.

It's not for lack of starting pitching, especially from staff ace Zack Wheeler. In two very different starts, the right-hander has looked in midseason form, allowing just one earned run on eight hits across 12 innings. He has registered 15 strikeouts, 10 of which came in a tough loss in brutal conditions against the Cincinnati Reds.

Sure, we're still in small-sample-size territory, but Wheeler has done everything in his power to help the Phillies earn early-season wins. While his Opening Day loss to the Atlanta Braves fell squarely on the bullpen's mind-boggling three-inning implosion, the lack of offense is the main culprit. The Phillies have been outscored 13-4 in his two starts.

Despite being the most victimized by the inconsistent early season play, Wheeler, the veteran he is, has taken the approach you'd expect to the disappointing start.

“It is what it is,” Wheeler said after Wednesday's 4-1 loss, per's Todd Zolecki. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ve just got to play a little more consistently and we’ll be right where we want to be.”

Wheeler has been the model of consistency early on. He has gone six innings in each outing, holding the Braves off the scoresheet on five hits. Against the Reds, he was victimized by an uncharacteristic Bryson Stott error and left trailing 3-1.

Manager Rob Thomson has been impressed by Wheeler's start, especially after the loss to the Reds on Wednesday.

"He pitched," manager Rob Thomson said in his postgame availability. "He used the secondary pitches. A lot of the sweepers they were showing, they were actually splits, but I thought his command was really good. His velocity was down. So he mixed in a lot more offspeed pitches and he pitched."

With those two starts, Wheeler could, and should, be 2-0. The Phillies could easily be 4-3.

Early season struggles nothing new for Phillies

If you feel like you've been on this ride before, hang on tight. If we've learned anything about this Phillies team over the past few seasons, it's always interesting in Philadelphia.

Last season, the Phillies started 2-5 in the first week and finished April 15-14. In 2022, they went 3-4 in their first seven games, finishing April 11-11. In 2021, they got off to a good start, 5-2 after one week, yet still finished April 13-13.

So a 3-4 start doesn't look bad in context, but maybe it's how they've done it. The starting pitching has shown up, for the most part, the bullpen has been rocky, and the offense is sputtering along in fits and starts, buoyed by Bryce Harper's three-home run show on Tuesday.

"We're a better offensive club than we're showing," Thomson said on Wednesday. "But it will come. I have all the confidence in the world in them, but off to a little bit of a slow start, tough hitting tonight."

Let's hope the bats show up soon and for Wheeler's next start. He's scheduled to take the ball on Tuesday in St. Louis against the Cardinals and will be looking for his first win of the season.