The Phillies head down to Atlanta to decide the fate of the NL East as they take on the Braves in a three game set. Sitting at two and a half games out of the division lead with six games left, Philly needs to do everything it can to stay in the hunt for the division crown during the last week of the season. That all starts as they try to chase down an Atlanta squad that has held down first place in the division for the past six-plus weeks.
It would be easy to say that neither team’s fanbase thought they would be here today. Atlanta probably thought they would run away with the division, but after major injuries to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka, people were counting them out across the sports media landscape. Those weren’t their only injuries, but when people expected them to rebuild towards next season, the Braves made key additions at the trade deadline, and the rest of the offense stepped up big in Acuña’s absence. Add in their pitching stepping up in the second half as well (3.55 ERA in second half vs. 4.27 ERA in first half) and you can see how the team stepped up and fought their way back into first place.
The Phillies have been riding potential a potential Cy Young campaign from NAIT Zack Wheeler, the emergence of closer-turned-impact-starter Ranger Suárez, and a potential MVP season from Bryce Harper to try and stay in the race. Philadelphia has spent a total of 23 game days in first place in the NL East, one less than the amount of game days they’ve spent in third place. Injuries, lack luster performances, and shopping in the bargain bin may be a few of several reasons the Phillies have struggled this season. But to still be here in the last week of the season, they (aka Harper) had to show some resolve and rise to the occasion. Bryce has more than lived up to his contract, throwing the team on his back and marching them to this position.
There are all sorts of scenarios the Phillies have in front of them to make the playoffs. It does not end with the Braves series, but getting a win in this series sets them up for a much better probability than if they were to drop two or three games to Atlanta. Even with a sweep, the Phillies will likely need some help. In fact, the Phillies could sweep both this coming series and their final series against the Marlins and there is still a chance a game 163 will be necessary.
Who toes the rubber?
Both teams found ways to save their best for this series. Atlanta will send out former Phillie Charlie Morton on Tuesday, followed by Max Fried and Ian Anderson on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The Braves have outscored the Phillies by 11 runs in the season series thus far and their pitching is a big reason why. Take a look at how their starters have done against the Phillies this season:
- Charlie Morton – 4 starts, 3.06 ERA, 17.2 IP, 21 Ks, 9 BBs, 1.528 WHIP
- Max Fried – 2 starts, 5.40 ERA, 10.0 IP, 14 Ks, 6 BBs, 1.800 WHIP
- Ian Anderson – 4 starts, 3.09 ERA, 23.1 IP, 24 Ks, 7 BBs, 1.114 WHIP
Max Fried may have struggled against the Phillies, but he does have a 3.12 ERA on the season and a .224 batting average against at home. Despite the positive run differential for the Braves, the Phillies are winning the season series with nine wins to only seven losses. Wheels has had the Braves’ number this season, pitching to the tune of a 1.37 ERA over four starts. Nola has “struggled” (nothing new here) against Atlanta this year but no worse than his season numbers would show. Kyle Gibson has missed the Braves since being traded to the Phillies so far, so maybe the ground-baller can surprise and stifle the Atlanta offense.
Who to watch for at the plate?
Even the most casual of Phillies fans are familiar with Freddie Freeman. Dansby Swanson is pleasant on the eyes. But recently, the only reason Phillies fans might know the name Austin Riley is to laugh when Braves fans on twitter say he should win the MVP award. Young, thick (shout out @talkinbaseball) Austin Riley is batting over .300, he’s one of three Atlanta infielders with 30 HR this season, and has already reached 100 RBIs. For those who like advanced metrics, he is also seventh in bWAR with 5.6 and his .899 OPS ranks ninth. We won’t stay on the MVP conversation long, as there is debate whether or not he is the MVP of his own team, let alone the National League. Riley has a .276 / .382 / .517 slash line against the Phillies this season with three of his 30 homers coming against Philadelphia.
Best case scenario for this series: The Phillies sweep and then win out and force the Braves to do the same to keep pace. Worst case scenario? they get swept by the Braves and
rip my heart out for the 10th time this season limp into the offseason with a lot of question marks. One thing is for sure, drama late in September is a nice feeling that fans across Philadelphia hope will stick around into October.
Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire