At some point, recognition needs to be made that Cristopher Sanchez is not just another arm. At some point, it needs to be recognized that he has an elite change up and that as long as he throws strikes, he’s not just a run-of-the-mill No. 5 starter.

He’s much more than that now.

In 2023 he was a fun story – a guy left on the fringes of the roster who was only called upon to pitch out of absolute necessity and provided an unexpectedly successful campaign, helping the Phillies get into the postseason.

The Phillies hoped he could build on that heading into 2024 and would have the opportunity to do so as the No. 5 starter, a role usually reserved for a guy who you hope gets you five innings and keeps it close.

While Sanchez has clearly moved up to the No. 4 spot in the rotation to start the season, his production has been far greater than that of most guys at the back end of a rotation:

In fact, because of Sanchez, the Phillies may have the best rotation in all of baseball.

He did it again Wednesday, pitching six innings and allowing just one unearned run while striking out 10 in what was a 7-6 Phillies win over the Colorado Rockies, completing their first sweep of the season.

Yes, things got hairy late in the game with Gregory Soto having a meltdown inning and Jeff Hoffman unable to put out the fire, but that one blip aside, the Phillies pitching was sensational against a bad Rockies team.

Aaron Nola allowed just one run in 7 1/3 innings Monday, Ranger Suarez pitched a complete game shutout on Tuesday, and then Sanchez followed suit with a masterpiece of his own on Wednesday.

The three combined for 27 strikeouts and just three walks.

All told, this year Phillies starters have a 2.54 ERA – and that’s with Nola having a stinker in his first start against Atlanta. Take out that one hiccup and the Phillies rotation has a 2.14 ERA in the other 18 games.

That’s not just a heater. That’s consistency.

According to Statcast, the Phillies pitching staff, and yes, including relievers, has an expected batting average against of .231, second-best in the sport behind only Cincinnati. Their expected slugging percentage against is .350, best in baseball. Their expected weighted on base average (xwOBA) is .289 – also best in baseball and the only one below .300.

“Sanchy was great,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said, going with his usually listing of superlatives when he has a strong pitching performance from one of his guys. “A lot of strikes, locating his fastball, back-of-the-plate sliders that they were swinging through. A good change up. A lot of swing and miss. Great poise. He really pitched well.”

There’s no doubt he’s firmly entrenched in a rotation that has carried the Phillies to a good start. Consider the Phillies weren’t three games over .500 until the middle of June last year and 11-8 is great. Actually, if you extrapolate 11-8 over 162 games, that would be a record of 94-68 – and that’s without the offense clicking much through the first 19 games. Get it rolling and that number could climb even higher.

Keeping in mind that it was against the lowly Rockies, the offense did start to have a breakout over the final two games. They scored five runs on Tuesday and needed every one of the seven they got Wednesday.

Kyle Schwarber hit two dingers and Trea Turner had three hits, including a homer, to lead the way on Wednesday, but it wasn’t just the long ball.

The Phillies finished with 12 hits and added two walks. Alec Bohm had an RBI double. Turner and Johan Rojas added doubles. And there were seven singles.

“We know who we are in this room,” Schwarber said. “I think you’re going to get better versions of players as we keep going throughout the year. There’s a lot of guys who have been staples in the game for a long time and I think it’s going to be really cool to see a lot of these guys who are younger and going to be making their name in the game and seeing where they end up. That’s the cool thing for us.”

Schwarber led off the game with a home run:

It was his 34th career leadoff homerun.

His 251st, which turned out to be the game-winner, was a bomb.

As for Turner, we talked about him as an MVP candidate heading into last season, and then he underwhelmed until August. He got red hot in the final two months of the season and that has seemed to carry over to 2024.

Turner hit his second homer of the season on the very next pitch after Schwarber’s lead off blast in the first inning:

After his three hits, he’s now upped his average to .329 this season.

“Today was good, Turner said. “The last few games I was taking the swings I wanted about 50% of the time and felt like I wasn’t totally there. Tonight, it felt like my swing was there every time and I got some pitches to hit and obviously I didn’t miss them.”

If the offense continues to be more consistent, the Phillies could surge. They get an even worse team coming in this weekend in the Chicago White Sox.

And even if their offense still has its stops and starts, they can lean on their pitching, because there’s no better group in the sport from top to bottom.

Miscellaneous notes

  • Johan Rojas had a single, a double, and a walk Wednesday. He has eight hits in his last six games and is starting to look more comfortable at the plate. Turner said he spent time with Rojas at batting practice and they worked on some things that would be boring to talk about publicly, but whatever it was, it seemed to have a good impact up front.
  • Gregory Soto and Jeff Hoffman worked some deep counts in the eighth inning and the duo combined to walk three batters, two who scored, in the Rockies’ five-run inning. Soto took it on the chin, being tagged with five runs in just 1/3 of an inning, but the pitch selection was curious. ON two of the walks, one by each guy, there was a non-competitive 3-2 slider in the dirt. When you have a big lead against a bad offensive team, you need to throw strikes. “Yeah, [they] just need to fill the zone,” Thomson said.
  • Taijuan Walker could be back sooner than expected. He made a 78-pitch rehab start at Lehigh Valley on Tuesday and was back with the team on Wednesday. He will throw a bullpen on Friday – not coincidentally, the same day as Spencer Turnbull is slated to start – and then the Phillies will decide what to do with him. A prediction? He pitches next Wednesday in Cincinnati.