NLCS Game 1 matches up ace pitchers in Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen, Phillies’ Zack Wheeler

Oct 16, 2023, 2:47 PM

Manager Rob Thomson #59 of the Philadelphia Phillies and Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks...

Manager Rob Thomson #59 of the Philadelphia Phillies and Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pose for a photo ahead of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at T-Mobile Park on July 10, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — The Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies finished their NLDS victories with substantive time to reset their pitching rotations for the NLCS.

Enter aces Zac Gallen of the D-backs and Zack Wheeler of the Phillies in Game 1 Monday night.

Gallen has filled his year with major-league firsts from making the All-Star Game, reaching 200 innings and now pitching in the postseason. His run has started with 11.1 innings and four earned runs in a pair of victories on the road.

Wheeler was in his shoes last year, dealing a 2.78 ERA over his first six career playoff starts, including seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLCS against the San Diego Padres.

He was instrumental to Philadelphia’s run to the World Series and has continued to prove himself on this run, tallying 13 innings of three-run ball and 18 strikeouts.

“I’ve had good seasons before last year, so you want to carry it into the playoffs,” Wheeler said. “But everybody’s game steps up a little bit. Me being a little older now — maybe when I was younger, I would try to overthrow in a big situation like this. Now I know you just try to stay the same person, same ballplayer and pitch your game. Don’t try to overthrow. Don’t try to do too much.”

Wheeler’s 0.72 career WHIP is the best in MLB postseason history for a minimum of 150 batters. He has a five-pitch mix with a four-seamer, sinker, sweeper, slider and curveball, according to Statcast.

“Highly competitive guy. … It’s a good combination to have stuff and competitiveness and being able to hold your stuff,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.

He’s hardly walked anyone this year at 5%, and Gallen admires Wheeler’s ability to attack hitters.

“I remember when I hit as a pitcher, he was probably the toughest at-bat that I had faced,” Gallen said.

How do NLCS Game 1 starting pitchers Zac Gallen, Zack Wheeler compare in 2023?

The two starters had similar statistical seasons, with Gallen earning the ERA edge, 3.47 to 3.61. Gallen and Wheeler possess two of MLB’s top fastballs in terms of run value, strike out more than a batter per inning and keep the ball on the ground more than 41% of time.

Gallen has fared better head-to-head against Philadelphia’s hitters than Wheeler versus Arizona. The D-backs’ Ketel Marte, Tommy Pham and Christian Walker are a combined 18-for-38 when facing Wheeler.

Thomson started Gallen at the All-Star Game in Seattle and got to know him a little.

“He pitches above the zone, he has a really good breaking ball and he throws strikes. When you have that combination, I think you can be just like he is,” Thomson said. “He’s an All-Star pitcher.”

Gallen — a North Carolina Tar Heel who wears No. 23 — walked into his press conference on Sunday in a Michael Jordan UNC jersey.

He explained Jordan hitting the game-winning shot as a freshman in the 1982 National Championship displayed an elite level of preparation for the big moment, something he strives for.

“I think that seems to be the common theme with a lot of the greats in any field, really,” Gallen said.

His approach and routine stay the same, and pitching at his home ballpark for a chance to win a pennant won’t change that.

The Somerdale, New Jersey, native called this a business trip and will get to see loved ones after his outing.

First pitch of NLCS Game 1 between the Diamondbacks and Phillies is at 5:07 p.m. on 98.7 and the Arizona Sports app. 

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NLCS Game 1 matches up ace pitchers in Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen, Phillies’ Zack Wheeler