Without cheating, can you name the two National League teams that sit atop the wins leaderboard for the month of June?
No? Well, look no further than South Philadelphia this week to see them in action as the Phillies begin a nine-game homestand with a three-game series against their division rival, the Atlanta Braves.
After taking three of four games over the NL Wild Card-leading Padres, the Phillies now face the team occupying Wild Card spot No. 2. The Braves have been the NL’s top team in June sporting a 19-5 record, while the Phillies have been just one game worse at 18-6. Both teams have shot up significantly in the standings, and both have growing postseason aspirations.
After splitting the first series down in Atlanta, these teams will meet in a series for the second and final time before the Mid-Summer Classic. This series is for first half bragging rights, and, if it goes the Phillies’ way, could see the Fightins in a playoff spot come July 1. Expect big crowds at the Bank for each of the three night games because matchups between these rivals always live up to the hype. Don’t worry, though. In the second half of 2022, these two will play 12 more times over four sets.
By now, baseball and Phillies fans understand that Bryce Harper’s fractured thumb could take multiple months to heal fully, but he may not be the only elite outfielder missing this week’s divisional showdown. Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. fouled a ball extremely hard off his left foot during Saturday’s game versus the Dodgers, and reports say that he is struggling to put weight on it.
Still, the Braves are optimistic following negative x-rays, and his official injury diagnosis is day-to-day. However, don’t be surprised if Acuña misses multiple, if not all three, games in this series if the Braves decide to err on the side of caution. That being said, don’t be surprised if he starts in all three, either.
There’s no hiding from Acuña on the baseball diamond when he plays. After missing a large chunk of 2021 because of a torn ACL, the 24-year-old phenom is back to being his usual self. In 43 games in 2022, Acuña is hitting .281 with seven homers, 18 RBI, and 13 stolen bags.
He also has had great success against Philadelphia in his career with impressive head-to-head numbers, such as a .315 batting average, 11 home runs, and 36 RBI. He, along with Harper, are two of the National League’s top vote-getters for a starting role in the All-Star Game in just a few weeks, and baseball is better when the two are healthy.
What could make a series between two red hot rivals even more interesting?
Great pitching matchups, of course.
Phillies Ace up first
Zack Wheeler (6-4, 2.77 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (4-3, 4.84 ERA)
Last Wednesday in Arlington was just the second time Zack Wheeler did not register a quality start since late April. Wheeler struggled to find the zone that outing and walked three batters, and a high pitch count ran him from the game after just 4.1 innings of work.
Still, eight strikeouts and four runs (two of them unearned thanks to a Rhys Hoskins‘ error) doesn’t look all that bad. No pitcher is going to be dominant every time they get on the mound during a season, but I think Wheeler’s NL-leading 2.27 FIP and 0.4 HR/9 are proof of just how menacing he has been for opponents to face this season.
As for Charlie Morton, he has a 5.63 ERA in road starts this season. In his three losses, he has walked nine total batters while striking out just 12 (1.33 K/BB ratio). Compare that to his slightly better 2.88 K/BB in his four wins, and his, shockingly, 5.67 K/BB in his seven no decisions for 2022. How can a guy be better in games that he gets no credit for pitching in? Baseball is such a fascinating sport, people.
Ranger Suarez (6-4, 4.23 ERA) vs. Kyle Wright (8-4, 3.18 ERA)
June has statistically been Kyle Wright’s worst month of 2022, yet he still sports a 4-1 record for the month. After not doing so at all through his first 12 starts of the year, Wright let up double-digit hits in back-to-back outings. Wright currently flaunts an impressive 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but last time he faced the Phils, he only struck out five over 6.2 innings. More importantly, Wright was handed the loss that night back on May 26.
Ranger Suarez recently outdueled previously undefeated Joe Musgrove in his home ballpark. His ERA is approaching sub-4.00 territory for the first time since mid-May. So far in June, he has looked more like the breakout season version of himself from last year after starting 2022 a bit iffy.
Aaron Nola (4-5, 2.98 ERA) vs. Ian Anderson (6-4, 4.60 ERA)
Aaron Nola has entered the National League Cy Young race. Over his last 30 innings pitched, Nola has let up just three earned runs, all while striking out 40 batters and walking just three. One of the top signs of encouragement for the righty is that he is going deep into games at an optimal pitch count.
That can be credited to his league-leading 1.2 walks per nine innings, which ranks No. 1 amongst qualified starting pitchers in the NL, as well as an 8.38 strikeout-to-wall ratio that is best in the bigs this season. We could very well see him get his second career All-Star nod, his first coming in 2018 when he finished third in NL Cy Young voting.
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AP Photo/Derrick Tuskan