On Saturday in NLCS Game 5, the Phillies got exactly what they needed from ace Zack Wheeler, along with some big hits from the power bats, to head back to Philadelphia one victory away from back-to-back trips to the World Series.
A series-tied Game 5 can always be a career-defining night for a pitcher, but Wheeler also took the mound with the Phillies bullpen gassed from back-to-back losses in Games 3 and 4. Four relievers — Jeff Hoffman, Orion Kerkering, Craig Kimbrel and Jose Alvarado — pitched in both of those games, and Phillies manager Rob Thomson doesn’t like using relievers three days in a row.
Wheeler made it as small of an issue as he could. The right-hander, whose five-year, $118 million contract has been one of the best values in recent baseball history, held down the D-backs’ scrappy offense for seven innings. He didn’t surrender a run until the seventh, when Game 4 hero Alek Thomas clubbed a solo homer.
Wheeler finished with six hits, one earned run, one walk and eight strikeouts in his seven innings, throwing 99 pitches.
He lowered his career postseason ERA to 2.48 in 61⅔ innings.
There might be a lot of contenders for NLCS MVP if the Phillies close this out, but Wheeler’s performance Saturday combined with what he did in Game 1 — six innings, two earned runs, eight strikeouts — figures to make him a top contender. No other pitcher this postseason comes close to his 26 innings pitched through four starts.
Following Wheeler, Hoffman pitched yet again, throwing a scoreless eighth inning, then was followed by Seranthony Dominguez and Matt Strahm to close the ninth.
On the offensive side, the Phillies did what they have done for most of this postseason: hit early and hit often.
The teams travel back to Philly for Game 6, which starts at 5:07 p.m. ET Monday. Just like in Game 2 of this series, it’ll be Aaron Nola for the Phillies versus Merrill Kelly for the Diamondbacks.
With a victory, the Phillies can end this NLCS and punch their ticket to a second consecutive World Series.