July 7, 2022

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Wheeler guides Phils to sweep while date with Mets looms

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PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies’ weekend got more interesting with the week they just had at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils swept the Rockies in a four-game series with Thursday afternoon’s 7-1 victory. It was their first four-game sweep since August, when they swept the Nationals in Washington. It was their first four-game sweep at home since last May, when they swept the Brewers. The Phillies have won six of their last eight games to improve to 10-10. They are hitting well. They are pitching well. They are playing sound defense. And they have momentum as they open a three-game series on Friday night against the Mets at Citi Field.

“We’re both two really good teams,” Phillies ace Zack Wheeler said. “So, yeah, I guarantee you they’ll be ready to go. And we’re ready to go.”

The Mets are 14-6, which is the best record in the Majors. It is their second-best start since 1986, when they opened 16-4 on their way to the World Series. They are legit.

The Phillies think they are legit, too.

“I think we’re clicking on all cylinders, and it’s the perfect time to go into New York, when we’re clicking on cylinders,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler allowed one hit in six scoreless innings on Thursday to pick up his first win of the season. He struck out seven and walked four. His velocity ticked up again as he continued to build arm strength following a shortened spring.

It was encouraging and needed.

“I came out of the game and I felt like I got that little monkey off my back,” Wheeler said. “Just to come out of there with zeros, I think is the biggest thing for me. Just continue to get the pitch count up a little bit. I’m getting to where I want to be. I’m not fully there, but we’re getting there.

“Velo-wise, yeah, there’s still some in there. It’ll come.”

Philadelphia scored 32 runs in the series. It has scored 48 during its 6-2 stretch. It’s not relying on the long ball, either. The Phillies hit eight home runs in their eight-game span, but only four over their last seven games.

The Phils took a 1-0 lead in the first, when Alec Bohm’s groundout scored Nick Castellanos from third. They took a 2-0 lead in the second, when Roman Quinn bunted for a hit, stole second, stole third and scored on Rhys Hoskins’ sacrifice fly. Bohm hit his second homer of the season in the fourth to make it 3-0. He is tied with Bryce Harper with a team-high 14 RBIs.

“Everybody knows we’re going to slug,” Hoskins said. “But it’s nice to know that when we’re not slugging, we can manufacture runs.”

Phillies starters had a 2.28 ERA against Colorado. They have a 2.54 ERA in the past eight games. The bullpen has pitched well, too. It had a 2.19 ERA against the Rockies, and a 2.77 ERA in the past eight games.

“I don’t want to say we stumbled out of the gate,” Hoskins said. “It just took us a while to kind of figure each other out, I think.”

Can they figure out the Mets? The rivalry got heated last year, even as both teams struggled. José Alvarado threw a 100.2 mph fastball near Michael Conforto’s head on April 13, 2021, at Citi Field. He then hit him with a 100.1 mph fastball on his left arm.

The Mets jawed with Alvarado from the dugout, but nobody more so than Dominic Smith, who Alvarado dismissively waved off and shushed with his finger. Seventeen days later, Alvarado struck out Smith swinging in a big moment in a Phillies victory at Citizens Bank Park. Alvarado said a few things and made a few gestures to Smith.

Smith said a few things back. Alvarado dropped his glove. The benches cleared, but nothing else happened.

Remember that backstory because the Mets have been hit by pitches 19 times in their first 20 games, including five times by the Phillies in their April 11-13 series, easily the most in the Majors this season.

The Mets were in a melee on Wednesday with the Cardinals because of it.

“I’m sure it’ll be intense,” Hoskins said. “It usually is, regardless of where it’s played. I’m sure we’ll feel it a little more being in New York. And it’s a weekend series, right? Really, what more can we ask for? We’ve got Sunday night baseball. We get to face the best. I know they’re one of the best in the league. We’ll be excited to get after these guys.”

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