Do the Phillies have the best Big Three in MLB? How they stack up to other formidable starter trios.

Philadelphia Phillies

It was a bold claim.

Zack Wheeler had neither pitched 200 innings nor struck out 200 batters in a season. But there was then-Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, after signing Wheeler to the third-largest contract in franchise history in December 2019, boasting of his new top-of-the-rotation tandem.

“Those two,” Klentak said of Aaron Nola and Wheeler, “are as good as any twosome you’ll find in the league.”

» READ MORE: A too-early MLB trade deadline preview: Teams to watch with players who could be fits for the Phillies

Five years later, is there a doubt?

Wheeler is baseball’s quintessential ace. With a combination of peak fastball velocity and secondary-pitch creativity, he’s the most complete pitcher in the National League, if not the majors. Nola personifies reliability. He has made more starts (185) and the third-most quality starts (100) of any pitcher since 2018.

The rises of Wheeler and Nola represent the biggest reasons for the deep playoff runs in 2022 and 2023. But a third frontline starter separates the contenders from the superpowers, and well, the Phillies present Ranger Suárez, who arrived for Tuesday night’s start against the Texas Rangers with an 8-0 record and 1.37 ERA.

“People might not like it, but I think he’s the best [No.] 3 [starter] in the game,” Bryce Harper said recently. “Every time he goes out there, we’ve got a chance to win, just like the other two guys that go out there in front of him.”

It’s tough to argue. Entering the week, Suárez was second in the league in ERA and wins above replacement, as measured by Baseball Reference. He’s among the early favorites to start the All-Star Game for NL manager Torey Lovullo.

And if Wheeler and Nola were among the best 1-2 punches in baseball, where does the emerge of Suárez leave the Phillies in terms of trios? Here’s a look at some of the majors’ other formidable Big Threes:

» READ MORE: Is the Phillies’ dominant starting pitching sustainable all season? Their catcher thinks so.

Los Angeles Dodgers

It takes a stockpile of arms to get through a 162-game season, and the Dodgers displayed their depth last year en route to 100 wins. But the playoffs are a different animal, and they essentially ran out of top-end starters in a three-game divisional round sweep by the Diamondbacks.

So, the Dodgers rebuilt the top of the rotation in the offseason, and like the Phillies, it’s the primary reason for their blazing start (33-17 through Monday).

Tyler Glasnow came over in a trade with the Rays and has a 2.90 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 10 starts. The Dodgers flung $325 million at Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was coveted by several teams, including the Phillies. And despite a few hiccups, he has a 3.17 ERA through 10 starts.

The Dodgers expect 25-year-old righty Bobby Miller to return soon from shoulder inflammation and hope to get 36-year-old Clayton Kershaw back eventually from offseason shoulder surgery. In the meantime, they’re getting by with James Paxton and Gavin Stone.

But it’s the recent return of erstwhile ace Walker Buehler from Tommy John elbow surgery that has the Dodgers excited about the prospect of a Big Three. Buehler’s fastball velocity is back in the mid-90s, and last Saturday, he held the Reds to three hits in six walk-free innings.

» READ MORE: The Phillies’ young core has helped form MLB’s deepest roster. Just like Bryce Harper wanted.

Chicago Cubs

For all the attention that was paid to Yamamoto, less-heralded Nippon Professional Baseball star Shota Imanaga has outpitched him so far.

After shutting out the Pirates for seven innings last Saturday, Imanaga leads the NL with a 0.84 ERA. It’s the lowest mark through nine major-league starts since earned runs became an official stat in 1913, better than even Fernando Valenzuela’s breathtaking 0.91 start in 1981.

Imanaga has also helped to give the Cubs a promising Big Three.

Left-hander Justin Steele has a 5.21 ERA after struggling in back-to-back starts against the Pirates. But he’s only three starts into his return from a strained left hamstring. After a fifth-place finish in the Cy Young voting last season, the Cubs are expecting him to figure it out.

Javier Assad has been the Cubs’ version of Suárez. A sinkerballer with a four-seamer and cutter to lefties, he took a 1.49 ERA into a start Tuesday night against the Braves. In his last 18 starts dating to last season, Assad has a 2.18 ERA. But he also hasn’t pitched more than 109⅓ innings in a major league season.

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Seattle Mariners

At the end of last season, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto set an underwhelming goal for the Mariners to win at a .540 clip — 87ish wins per season — over a 10-year period. Dipoto’s comment drew some ridicule. His point was that he wanted to achieve long-term consistency.

The best way to do that: With a deep, talented starting rotation.

Seattle has exactly that, especially among its three best starters. The headliner is Luis Castillo, a former All-Star and fifth-place Cy Young finisher last season in the American League. He’s off to another strong start, with a 3.28 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 60⅓ innings.

Then there are fellow righties Logan Gilbert (3.20 ERA in 10 starts) and George Kirby (3.99 ERA in 10 starts), who aren’t as well known as Castillo but possess upside that could put them in future Cy Young conversations.

The Mariners have depth, too, with Bryce Miller (3.08 ERA in nine starts) and 24-year-old Bryan Woo, who took a 0.93 ERA into Tuesday night against the Yankees. But to maintain their lead in the AL West, they may need to move one of those pitchers for another bat. The Mariners are among the lowest-scoring teams in the majors.

» READ MORE: The Phillies are off to their best start since 1993. How will they handle being frontrunners?

New York Yankees

Like the Phillies, the Yankees made a serious bid for Yamamoto. The idea: Pair him with Gerrit Cole atop the rotation and get ready for October.

But Yamamoto preferred Los Angeles, and Cole injured his elbow.


Not exactly. Even without Cole, the Yankees’ rotation went into the week with a 2.95 ERA, third-best in the majors. Rookie righty Luis Gil, Cole’s fill-in, has a 2.39 ERA through nine starts, helping to stabilize a rotation that also includes veterans Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman, and Nestor Cortes.

Cole, shut down in March with nerve inflammation in his elbow, has been throwing from a mound and was expected to face hitters Tuesday. He’s reportedly expected to return in late June or early July.

The Yankees don’t have a Big Three without Cole, who is on the short list with Wheeler among the sport’s elite aces. But if he comes back at his peak form, they have enough talent behind him to form a trio that could dominate in the postseason.

» READ MORE: Homegrown Phillies Alec Bohm and Ranger Suárez don’t want to go anywhere. Here’s the extension case for each.

Pittsburgh Pirates

OK, so maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, but, well, have you seen Paul Skenes?

In two major-league starts, the top pitching prospect in baseball has allowed three runs and piled up 18 strikeouts in 10 innings. Skenes struck out 11 of 19 batters last Friday at Wrigley Field. His fastball is averaging 99.7 mph, with a splitter and a wicked slider. He turns 22 next week.

But it isn’t only Skenes. Jared Jones, also 22, throws in the upper 90s, too, and has 63 strikeouts in 53 innings. Nine starts into his major-league career, he has a 2.89 ERA and has averaged nearly six innings per start.

Mitch Keller, a durable workhorse, would round out a Pirates’ Big Three that would be even more formidable if the workloads of Skenes and Jones wasn’t going to become an issue later in the summer.

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