The St. Louis Cardinals are set to face off with the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Wild Card Series. The Cardinals are the three seed in the NL as a result of being the division winner with the worst record. Philly made the playoffs as the last wildcard team and the last team in the MLB to clinch a playoff berth. Despite that though the Phillies are a team that is loaded with star power with the likes of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto leading their offense. Although, they have one of the best one two punches in baseball as well in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola who are starting games one and two of this series respectively. Down below we are going to do a quick rundown of what both starters bring to the table.
Wheeler is mainly a fastball slider pitch as he throws his four seam fastball 41.8 percent of the time and his slider 26.8 percent. Outside of those two pitches he also features a sinker, curveball and changeup in his arsenal. His four-seam fastball averages out at 95.9 MPH with a spin rate of 2,390 which sits in the 76th percentile. His slider is relatively average when it comes to spin rates, although it is still a pitch that hitters struggle with as has an xBA of .217 and an xWOBA of .262 against it.
Despite missing some time earlier in the season Wheeler has numbers that match up against almost any starter in the league. Across 26 starts he has an xERA of 3.10 which sits in the 80th percentile, an xwOBA of .275, xwOBAcon of .345 and an average exit velocity of 85.9 which is in the 94th percentile. Wheeler also importantly limits walks with only a 5.6 walk percentage which is 2.8 percent better than league average to go along with a strikeout percentage of 26.9 percent which is 4.8 better than the Major League average.
Wheeler is not a high chase or whiff rate pitcher nor is he a pitcher with plus plus stuff across the board like some aces feature. He is just simply an ace who is strong across the board as he lacks any type of glaring weakness to his game.
Nola, unlike Wheeler, has a more balanced pitching arsenal as he throws a four-seamer 33.3 percent of the time, curve 26.5 percent and a sinker at 18.9 percent. In addition to that trio of pitches he also mixes in a changeup at 14.7 percent and a cutter at 6.5 percent of the time. Nola’s curve is his true difference making pitch as it features above average horizontal and vertical movement as well as carrying a whiff percentage of 39.4 percent. Nola does not blow hitters away with velocity as his four seamer averages out at 92.8 MPH, making him more of a finesse pitcher who uses his pitches movement and overall precision to get batters out.
Philly’s game two starter has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past five or so years. This season he has taken his dominance to a new level posting a career best xERA of 2.74 which is in the tenth highest percentile in baseball to go along with a miniscule walk percentage of 3.6 percent which is in the 99th percentile. Despite his average exit velocity against of 87.7 MPH sitting in the 69th percentile his hard-hit percentage of 31.6 percent is in the 92nd percentile in baseball. In addition to all of those elite numbers Nola also carries a strikeout percentage of 29.1 percent which is in the 85th percentile.
The biggest key for the Cardinals in game two of this series is going to be attacking Nola early and often in the count. He is not a pitcher who is going to walk batters even if they are able to work the count against him so ambushing the ace as much as possible and preventing him from being able to fully utilize his curveball is going to be key.