The Phillies will go with Aaron Nola as their starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night in Houston.
Zack Wheeler, who could have started Game 1 on regular rest, will start Game 2 on Saturday night.
Wheeler has been brilliant this postseason. In four starts, he has pitched 25⅓ innings and allowed just 10 hits and five earned runs. He has struck out 25 and walked just three.
Wheeler’s postseason would look even better if a misplay by first baseman Rhys Hoskins in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against Atlanta had been ruled an error. It was generously scored a hit by the hometown Atlanta official scorer and Wheeler was ultimately tagged with three earned runs.
What does it matter now? The Phillies took care of the Braves in the NLDS. They took care of the St. Louis Cardinals before that and beat the San Diego Padres in the NL Championship Series. They’re in the World Series for the eighth time in franchise history and no one saw it coming, not after they squeaked into the postseason as the sixth and final seed in the NL, with 87 wins, 24 fewer than the top-seeded Los Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It’s kind of what we always said in the regular season — if we make it in, anything can happen,” Kyle Schwarber said after the team’s workout at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon. The club flew to Houston afterwards.
“I always believe it’s a 162-game season and you have to manage those games to where you can get yourself into the postseason and now that we’re here, it’s a brand-new season. We’ve done well to this point. Now we have one more drive to take care of and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Phillies’ Bryce Harper-led NLCS clincher Sunday against San Diego set off a party in the streets of Philadelphia. Across the way from Citizens Bank Park, at Xfinity Live, a celebrating Schwarber rode a mechanical bull and the collective heart of the Phillies’ Universe skipped a beat when he fell off.
“I’ve taken harder falls off horses,” Schwarber said. “My sister showed horses, so I grew up around them. No worries. We made sure the bull was going slow.”
Schwarber, who won a World Series with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, went on to talk about more horses.
Nola and Wheeler.
“They’ve been our horses all year,” he said. “You can’t go wrong with whoever takes the ball in these first two games. Both have been so good.”
The Phillies are 3-0 in Game 1s this postseason. Wheeler started two of them, Ranger Suarez the other.
Manager Rob Thomson decided to flip-flop Wheeler and Nola in the rotation because he wanted to get Wheeler an extra day of rest.
“I think the numbers speak to the fact that both him and Nola — on an extra day of rest their numbers are a lot better, and any time we can give those guys an extra day, we do,” Thomson said.
Nola will start Game 1 against Justin Verlander on eight days’ rest. Wheeler will start Game 2 on five days’ rest, one more than usual. During the regular season, Wheeler made 10 starts on four days’ rest. His ERA was 3.66 in those games. He made 11 starts on five days’ rest. His ERA was 2.57.
Wheeler started the Game 5 NLCS clincher against San Diego on Sunday. He pitched six innings and allowed just two runs and three hits, one of which was a solo homer by Juan Soto. He walked none and struck out eight. In the fourth inning of that game, he was hit on the right leg by a line drive off the bat of Josh Bell. He also suffered a dip in velocity in the sixth inning. He threw 87 pitches.
The ball off the leg — “It was sore but he’ll be fine for Game 2,” Thomson said — and the dip in velocity were factors in the team’s decision to give Wheeler one more day between starts.
The Astros and Phillies saw each other earlier this month, in the final regular season series of the season. The Phils were actually supposed to open the season in Houston, but the series was moved back six months after a lockout delayed the start of the season. On October 3, Nola enjoyed one of the finest moments of his career when he opened the first game in Houston with 6⅔ perfect innings. The Phillies went on to a 3-0 victory to clinch their first playoff berth in a decade. Nola wiped the champagne from his eyes and pitched gems against St. Louis and Atlanta in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Nola’s run of success ended in Game 2 of the NLCS in San Diego. He failed to protect an early 4-0 lead and was tagged for seven hits, including two homers, and six runs over 4⅔ innings in an 8-5 loss. That was the last time the Phillies lost a game.
The Padres feasted on Nola’s fastball in Game 2 of the NLCS. Some of them were poorly located. Others, well, it looked like the Padres knew what was coming. Thomson was concerned enough about that to have his staff go over the video to see if Nola was tipping his pitches.
“We didn’t find anything,” Thomson said. “And we looked at it. Any time that type of thing happens, we’re always looking at it and we’re always checking to make sure we got everything covered.”
The Astros won the World Series in 2017. It was later learned that they illegally stole signs during that season. The Astros beat the Yankees in the ALCS that October. Thomson was the Yankees bench coach that season. Phillies reliever David Robertson was with the Yankees that season and was hit hard in that ALCS. After the cheating scheme was uncovered, Robertson called it a “disgrace.”
Time heals and brings new opportunities.
“For me personally, there is no extra motivation because of that to beat the Astros,” Thomson said. “I just want to win a World Series.”
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