Although the Summer of 2020 was merely four years ago, and the memories of cardboard cutouts of fans and surprise COVID-19 tests still remain fresh in the minds of MLB fans, for the Phillies, that dreaded 2020 campaign might as well have been 10 years ago.
This 45-20 Phillies team, tied for first in baseball with the Yankees, has entered a different era.

They are no longer perennial disappointments in the midst of an 11-year playoff drought, outsiders looking in, a team saddled with just as many roster holes as big-name players. They no longer have the worst bullpen in the sport’s history–instead, they have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.

In the past four years, the Phillies have completely changed the narrative around their team from costly failures to legitimate World Series contenders. The transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. 

However, on Wednesday in Boston, the Phillies will stare down a piece of their ugly past. Red Sox starting pitcher Nick Pivetta is slated to face Cristopher Sanchez in a duel of back-end rotation pitchers present and past. Pivetta, who spent parts of four seasons with the Phillies after making his Major League debut in 2017, is the rotation pitcher who never was.

Cristopher Sanchez, however, is looking like the rotation piece that the Phillies always hoped Pivetta would be. 

PHOTO: ClutchPoints

Pivetta, who was traded to Boston during that strange summer of 2020, symbolized the Phillies’ most recent era of futility to a T. He was yet another young, promising player that just didn’t quite pan out in the vein of Scott Kingery, Vince Velasquez, Maikel Franco and countless others who donned the red and white pinstripes. A talented arm with a mid-90s fastball and a highly touted curveball, Pivetta made a splash in 2017 at age 24 when he threw 133.0 innings over 26 starts. Sure, he had a 6.02 ERA, but when he followed it up with a 4.77 ERA in 164.0 innings over 32 starts in 2018, the sky seemed to be the limit for the young right-hander. Only it wasn’t. Pivetta struggled mightily in early 2019, to the point where the Phillies moved him to the bullpen–a role, it turned out, Pivetta wouldn’t be able to escape. He lost out on the fifth starter job in 2020 and pitched just three appearances for the Phillies before being traded to the Red Sox in August. 

Ever since, however, Pivetta has found success in Boston, both as a starter–he started a career-high 33 games in 2022 with a 4.56 ERA– and as a long man in the bullpen. In five years with the club, he has a 34-33 record, with a 4.26 ERA in 529.2 innings across 89 starts and 23 relief appearances. This year, Pivetta’s been remarkably solid, posting a 3-4 record over eight starts with a 3.40 ERA. He enters Wednesday’s matchup fresh off his best start of the season, a seven-inning shutout of the Braves, where he struck out nine and allowed just one hit. 

In Boston, Pivetta has turned his career around, from a fledgling starter at the edges of the Major Leagues to a full-time rotation piece capable of eating 160+ innings in any given year. He’s made decent money, with his career earnings just south of $18 million, and more importantly, established himself as a full-time big league starting pitcher.

The only caveat to his career? Cristopher Sanchez might be better. 

Sanchez, another minor league trade acquisition, debuted with the Phillies in 2021 at age 24, a hard-throwing lefty with control issues. Raw, but undeniably talented, much like Pivetta. Until 2024, however, the jury was still out on Sanchez’s ability to be the team’s fifth starter. He started just three games in 2022 and 18 in 2023, posting a 3.44 ERA over 99.1 innings.This year, however, Sanchez has elevated his game to another level: in 12 starts, he’s thrown 66.1 innings with a 3-3 record and a 2.71 ERA. He leads the league in HR/9 and has thrown six or more innings in six of his 18 starts. He is the unsung hero of what is undeniably the best starting rotation in baseball. 

In a different time, perhaps Pivetta would’ve worked out in Philadelphia. Perhaps with a different pitching coach or a different atmosphere, Pivetta would have had the breakout season he always seemed destined for in Philadelphia.

But he didn’t, and four years later, Sanchez has.

It’s only fitting then that two pitchers, parallels of one another from differing eras of Phillies baseball, will square off in a showdown of Phillies pitchers present and past on Wednesday night in Boston.

PHOTO: ClutchPoints

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