Zach Wheeler isn’t happy.
The Phillies ace, who ranks second in the N.L. in strikeouts, had his worst start of the season on Sunday against the Marlins, allowing six runs on six hits and three walks over just four innings.

He’s admitted over the first month and a half of the regular season that he hasn’t had his “best stuff.” He’s been battling through some things, often unseen, as his command hasn’t been quite as sharp as it usually is. The catch? He’s currently in the lead for the N.L. Cy Young award, perhaps only rivaled by his battery mate Ranger Suarez, with a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, and a .190 BAA. 

Wheeler’s dominance, in spite of not living up to his own performance standards, is a microcosm of how the Phillies have played this season. Yes, entering Tuesday’s matchup against the Mets, the Phillies have the best record in MLB, up 2.0 games on Atlanta with a gaudy 29-13 start to the regular season.

And while some degree of regression is to be expected, there is evidence to support the theory that the best is yet to come for this talented Phillies roster. 

Trea Turner’s Absence

Since the Phillies star shortstop left May 3rd’s matchup against San Francisco with a hamstring strain–the first victory in a four-game sweep of the Giants–the Phillies have gone 7-2, splitting a two-game set against the Blue Jays and winning three out of four in Miami. Turner’s absence has paved the way for some of the team’s utility players to get extended reps. Edmundo Sosa has taken the opportunity in full stride–entering Tuesday’s matchup, Sosa had made six straight starts at shortstop, hitting .375 (6 for 16) with two triples, two doubles, three RBIs, and most notably, five walks. In 2023, Sosa had a walk rate of just 2.7% in 300 plate appearances. In 2024, he has a walk rate of 11.1% in just 54 plate appearances. 

Kody Clemens has become the utility man extraordinaire since his call-up to the big leagues on April 22. He has five hits in 15 plate appearances, many of them clutch, including a pinch-hit single in the 9th inning to invigorate a rally against Mets closer Edwin Diaz. He added to his night with a heroic leaping catch at second base in the bottom of the 9th.

An Opening in the Outfield

Turner’s absence, combined with a lingering back injury that took Kyle Schwarber out of much of the series against Miami, has shifted the lineup enough to where another young, promising utility man has had a chance to shine: outfielder Cristian Pache. The 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic has seen limited playing time in 2024–in 42 games, Pache has made only 10 starts with just 30 at-bats.

The rise of Johan Rojas, combined with the presence of Whit Merrifield and starting left fielder Brandon Marsh, has made it difficult for Pache to stand out. However, in the last seven days, Pache has made three starts, hitting .385 with two RBIs in 13 plate appearances. Pache’s physical tools in the outfield, he ranked in the 94th percentile of arm strength in 2023, paired with Marsh’s continued inability to hit left-handed pitching, could pave the way for more playing time in the coming weeks. 

Bryson Stott’s Resurgence

Middle infielder Bryson Stott had a tough start to the 2024 season. A strong 2023 campaign had left expectations higher than ever for Stott in his third year with the big league club. Pre-season polls had him ranked amongst the 10 best second basemen in the sport, and his Gold Glove-level defense, combined with his power at the plate and speed on the base paths, primed the 26-year-old for a breakout in 2024. However, things didn’t go as planned. Stott entered the month of May hitting just .225, with more strikeouts (17) than walks (11). He was more of a burden than a contributor, unable to be the power bat in the middle of the lineup that the team envisioned him as. 

Despite his poor start to the year, Stott remained confident in his abilities and the results have started to show. Along with playing excellent defense at both second base and shortstop, Stott has been on fire as of late, hitting .433 and slugging .700 in the month of May. His emergence into the player he is capable of being will be key to the team’s continued success.

In the face of adversity, the Phillies have continued to find ways to win.
With a roster as deep as any in the sport, they’ve proven that they can add to their win total in any way–from bottom-of-the-order contributions against Miami to late-inning heroics in the Big Apple, their depth and tenacity are why the best may still be yet to come for this Phillies squad. 


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