Phillies Schedule

Premium pitching matchups all weekend for Phillies' important opening series

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Whether the Phillies' season opener is played Thursday as scheduled or the threat of rain pushes it back to Friday, Zack Wheeler and Spencer Strider are set to take the mound in perhaps the best pitching matchup in baseball during opening weekend.

They finished sixth and fourth, respectively, in the National League Cy Young race a year ago and are two heavy favorites this season.

Wheeler had a busy month. He and his wife, Dominique, welcomed their third child. He signed a three-year extension with one of the five highest annual average values in MLB history. And he added a splitter to his arsenal, throwing it during a sharp camp. He thinks the new weapon could take him to an even higher level.

"I think this could put me over the top and hopefully get a Cy Young," he said earlier this month. "That's what I want to do, and if I can take care of lefties the way I take care of righties, hopefully that'll take care of itself. It just opens up the book a little more to a lefty. They did a lot better off me last year than righties did."

Wheeler has always pitched well against the Braves. That's meaningful considering he's spent his entire big-league career in the NL East as Atlanta has boasted one of baseball's best lineups and won six straight division titles.

In 27 career starts against the Braves, Wheeler is 12-7 with a 3.18 ERA. As a Phillie against the Braves, he's 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 13 starts.

No opposing team knows Strider as well as the Phillies. They've experienced timely success against him and also their share of failure. In the regular season, Strider is 8-0 with a 1.90 ERA against the Phils and they've gone 25-for-166 (.151) with 72 strikeouts.

The Phillies' game plan against Strider has always been to go after sliders up and fastballs down. His fastball has unique rise to it, so when he starts it up in the zone, it becomes a mostly unhittable pitch that batters struggle to catch up with. Strider tinkered with a curveball in spring training, which could make him even more deadly if he finds consistency with it.

All three of Strider's postseason starts have come against the Phillies and that's when they've done their damage. He was hurt and throwing 3-4 mph less than usual the day Rhys Hoskins crushed a three-run homer and slammed his bat in triumph as the Phillies changed the course of the 2022 NLDS. He was healthy but out of gas 363 days later when the Phillies handed him a loss to end the 2023 NLDS.

Starting pitchers being spent or hurt by October has been a big reason why the Braves' last two postseasons ended early. They didn't do much to augment their rotation but they did add Chris Sale, a lefty few Phillies have ever faced who could be an X-factor in the divisional race. The Braves are pinning a lot on Sale staying healthy along with 40-year-old Charlie Morton.

"He's Chris Sale. We'll have to deal with him," manager Rob Thomson said when the Phillies faced the lefty in a Grapefruit League game earlier this month. "The velocity's back up there, the slider was good, looks like he's working on his changeup."

After Wheeler and Strider on Opening Day, it's Aaron Nola vs. Max Fried on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ and Ranger Suarez vs. Sale on Sunday at 1:35 on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

This will be Nola's first regular-season start since signing his seven-year, $172 million contract. Fried, who has a 2.66 ERA in 83 starts over the last four seasons, could be in line for similar riches if he stays healthy. This is his walk year.

Suarez had the smoothest spring training of his career. No visa issues, no injuries, no World Baseball Classic, just a full complement of starts that would appear to have him better set up for early-season success than ever before.

"It was very important for me to have a full spring training and stay healthy," he said. "Past years I've been injured or haven't had great starts. I'm feeling great, thank god I haven't had any issues."

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