Zack Wheeler entered Thursday with a 2.6 fWAR, the third highest mark among all starting pitchers in 2021. Somehow, the Philadelphia Phillies righty has seemed to turn it up an extra notch with each start this season.
That trend continued in an extra-inning win over the Atlanta Braves Thursday, as Wheeler went eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits and striking out 12. It was Wheeler's fifth start in 2021 with double-digit strikeouts, and the third time that he's gone eight innings or longer so far this season.
After 13 starts, Wheeler's ERA sits at 2.29, which at the time of publication, tops Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer thus far in 2021.
Wheeler's minuscule ERA also puts him on pace or better than some of the finest seasons that Phillies starting pitchers have produced in the last 25 years:
It should be noted that each of the five seasons listed above ended with the respective Phillies starter making the All-Star team and finishing in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting. Schilling finished the lowest among all five seasons in Cy Young Award voting at fourth, while Halladay was the highest when he won the award in 2010.
Wheeler, of course, has his work cut out if he hopes to keep pace with these five campaigns, which are some of the best seasons in franchise history.
Sure, Lee had a 3.62 ERA after 13 starts in 2011, but then he tossed three consecutive complete-game shutouts in June of that season. For as iconic as Halladay's 2010 season was, he ended 2011 with even better numbers thanks in large part to the 2.19 ERA that he had in 13 starts after the All-Star Break. The margin for error to have one of the best seasons in the history of a given franchise is almost non-existent.
But so far, Wheeler has been one of baseball's best pitchers in 2021. That will almost certainly earn him a trip to his first All-Star Game, and if he stays on a pace like this, perhaps he'll have the honor of finishing runner-up to Jacob deGrom in the National League Cy Young Award race. It would be more than possible for Wheeler to finish behind deGrom, his former teammate, and still have one of the best seasons that a Phillies pitcher has ever had.