Phillies Have MLB’s Best Rotation … and It’s Not Just Wheeler and Nola

The Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation has been fantastic to start the year, and it's not only being carried by their co-aces.

J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ranger Suarez #55 embrace after the game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on April 16, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Rockies 5-0.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - APRIL 16: J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ranger Suarez #55 embrace after the game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on April 16, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Rockies 5-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Philadelphia Phillies have gone on two consecutive deep playoff runs thanks in large part to the one-two punch atop their rotation of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Both have recently been rewarded with lucrative contracts, but they are hardly the only reason that the Phillies have had baseball’s best starting rotation so far in 2024.

In fact, it’s the three starters below Wheeler and Nola in manager Rob Thomson’s rotation that have stood out thus far.

Ranger Suárez has been as good as any starter in the National League during the first month of the season. Over his first five starts this season, Suárez is 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA. He hasn’t allowed a run, earned or otherwise, over his last three starts. That includes a complete-game shutout against the Colorado Rockies on April 16.

“I think he’s the best No. 3 in the game,” Bryce Harper said of Suárez. “Just the way he goes out there and competes every time he’s out there. Just his starts. Every time he goes out there, we have a chance to win, just like the other two guys that go out there in front of him. It’s just a lot of fun to watch.”

Ad – content continues below

Suárez has shined both as a starter and a reliever over the last three seasons, while also developing a reputation as one of the best fielders at his position with 17 Defensive Runs Saved during that period. So him developing into an ace would hardly be out of nowhere. Nonetheless, if Suárez goes from being an elite No. 3 starter to a third ace for the Phillies, it would be the rich getting richer.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Cristopher Sánchez was a positive development for the Phillies a year ago, seizing the final spot in the starting rotation when he posted a 3.44 ERA over 99 1/3 regular-season innings. So far, the 27-year-old has looked excellent in the fourth spot in the rotation this season. He hasn’t allowed a single home run over 24 1/3 innings pitched, and has a 2.21 FIP, the lowest mark among pitchers in the NL.

Fielding is Sánchez’s biggest concern, as the lanky left-hander already has two errors this season. Sánchez also needs to be quicker to the plate with runners on base, so he can avoid becoming a pitcher that opposing teams can run wild on.

Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Sánchez. A year ago, he lowered the velocity on his sinker, his primary pitch, to 92.3 mph from 93.2 mph the prior season. That allowed him to gain more control. What’s so intriguing about Sánchez early in 2024 is that his average sinker velocity is 94.4 mph. So he’s increased his velocity, and it doesn’t seem to have come at the expense of his control.

Without a doubt, the most surprising development for the Phillies this season has been Spencer Turnbull‘s dominance. Signed to a deal in February that guaranteed him just $2 million, Turnbull got a chance to open the season in the starting rotation with Taijuan Walker on the injured list.

Ad – content continues below

Turnbull has more than made the best of the opportunity, as evidenced by the minuscule 1.33 ERA that he has to show after five starts. It’s the lowest ERA among qualified NL starting pitchers.

The expectation with Walker slated to return from a right shoulder injury this weekend in San Diego is that Turnbull — who is a veteran of Tommy John surgery and hasn’t logged more than 56 2/3 MLB innings in a season since 2019 — will shift to the bullpen for the time being.

It goes without saying, he feels drastically overqualified to be a long man right now. But, innings limits are a real concern for someone with an injury history. Over the course of a 162-game season, there’s almost certainly going to be another opportunity for Turnbull to start games, and the Phillies don’t want to use up all his innings in the first half of the season.

Also a reality here is that Walker is in the second season of a four-year, $72 million deal. Walker did log 172 2/3 innings in his first season with the Phillies, but struggled with his velocity early in games, leading to a 7.04 ERA in the first inning of games. It also led to Walker — much to his displeasure — not making a single postseason appearance last year, despite being on the roster for all three rounds the Phillies played in.

Certainly, there’s skepticism about what Walker is going to be in his return, particularly when you compare him to how well Turnbull has pitched thus far. But contractual considerations are real, and Walker was never going to come back as a long man.

Obviously, the Phillies hope that Walker pitches better early in games this season. But, if he’s eating innings as the No. 5 starter behind Wheeler, Nola, Suárez and Sánchez, there are certainly worse arrangements.

Ad – content continues below

In fact, even if Walker is a downgrade from Turnbull — which it’s almost impossible not to be — the Phillies might still have the best rotation in baseball. Suárez and Sánchez are pitching as well as they ever have, giving the rotation tremendous length. And Wheeler and Nola are as reliable of a one-two punch as there is in the sport.