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MLB Wild Card: Phillies win again, JT Realmuto playing at peak level

Zack Wheeler’s command was off as he labored through his six innings, but the Phillies are playing so well right now that it didn’t matter. They pounced on the Marlins early, kept hitting the ball hard and played more solid defense in a 4-1 win, their sixth in a row.

You want to step on the bad teams early and that’s exactly what the Phillies have done over the last two weeks. They crossed the plate again in the first inning Tuesday and have outscored their opponents 17-1 in the first inning of their last 11 games.

The Phillies have had their trouble with the Marlins for years, but not recently. Tuesday’s win was their sixth in the last seven games against Miami.

The Phils are 61-48 after winning 11 of 12. They entered the night with a 92.8% chance to make the playoffs, according to Baseball-Reference, and that percentage only increased.

They never trailed on a night that included rain delays of 32 and 33 minutes. Wheeler needed 59 pitches to work through the first three scoreless innings before JJ Bleday greeted him with a leadoff homer in the fourth. Immediately, JT Realmuto and Jean Segura responded with solo shots to the left.

This is probably the hottest Realmuto has been as a Phillie. Over his last 18 games, he’s hit .400 with five doubles, two triples, six homers and 19 RBI.

“I always thought (his power) was gonna come back,” manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s so athletic and so strong, he’s in such great shape. It’s gonna be a while before that goes away, I would think.”

The Phillies have needed all of it with Bryce Harper out and Kyle Schwarber no longer homering at a record pace.

“When he gets that bat going, he’s on a different level,” Wheeler said of his battery mate. “He does all the homework and he’s the best in the game for a reason.

“Even earlier this year when he was struggling a little bit, it was just nice to have him behind the plate. First and foremost, he calls an awesome game, I don’t really have to shake (him off) a lot. Some pitchers like to call their own games, but he’s my game-caller for the most part.”

Segura, too, has swung it well the last few nights. He had five hits in six at-bats at one point from Saturday night through Tuesday’s series opener against Miami.

Wheeler, unquestionably an ace, did what the great ones do by limiting damage even without his best stuff. He held the Marlins to one run on five hits over six innings despite walking three. It helped that Miami, averaging 1.7 runs over the last 10 games, just couldn’t hit.

“Maybe back in the day, I wouldn’t have gotten out of that like I did tonight,” Wheeler said. “It was tough, it was a grind. I felt like when I executed a pitch, everything went right but when I didn’t, I didn’t know where the ball was going. Just one of those days for me where I was and then bit out of sync. It was a grind for sure and I was happy to get out of there with six innings.”

Despite feeling off, Wheeler improved to 11-5 with a 2.63 ERA through 21 starts.

This was an important win for the Phillies given how the rest of their week shapes up. They face Sandy Alcantara Wednesday, Max Scherzer Friday and Jacob deGrom Saturday. It doesn’t get much easier Sunday against Chris Bassitt, who has fired off 19 straight scoreless innings for the Mets.

This week will be a stiff test but one that a contending team should welcome. Gotta beat the best to be the best.

“It’s a challenge we can’t avoid,” Thomson said. “We’re facing some real good pitchers the next six days. We’ve just got to take the same approach we’ve been taking — get good pitches to hit and just battle.”

As has been the theme for weeks, the Phils received contributions all over the place Tuesday night. Schwarber, Realmuto and Segura had multi-hit games. Alec Bohm drove in a run and scored on Realmuto’s first-inning double. Edmundo Sosa made several difficult plays look easy at shortstop and has been as advertised defensively so far. Jose Alvarado, David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez combined for three scoreless innings to close it out.

The Phillies look to win another series Wednesday night against Alcantara (10-4, 1.88) and the Marlins when Noah Syndergaard (6-8, 4.02) makes his second start with the team.

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