Phillies vs Braves Previewing a fiery series between two NL East rivals

Phillies Aaron Nola
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola leaves the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning in Game 6 of the baseball NL Championship Series in Philadelphia Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

March 31st was the last time the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves faced off. Today’s date is July 5th. 84 games have passed for the Phillies since then. 82 for the Braves. You have to love odd MLB schedules.

Throughout those games, stars on both sides have been lost to injury from Bryce Harper to Ronald Acuña Jr. to J.T. Realmuto to Spencer Strider. With that being said, injuries are a part of the game and neither team can use them as an excuse as the Phillies and Braves finally come together for another series.

Looking at the NL East

The Phillies and Braves will face off on plenty of more occasions between now and the end of the season: three games over the next three days and then eight games from August 20th to September 1st. While the Phillies (57-30) enter the current set with a 9.0 game lead over the Braves (47-38) in the National League East, these 10 games will make or break the Phillies’ bid for their first NL East title since 2011.

The rest of the NL East is largely out of the picture. The New York Mets (42-43) and Washington Nationals (41-46) sit right around the .500 mark and would need a tremendously good second half to work their way back into relevance for the NL East. The Miami Marlins? Good luck in 2025. Their 30-57 record places them 27.0 games back in the division.

The Battle on the Mound

Aaron Nola will get the series opener tonight as he faces off against Max Fried. Nola will make his 35th career start against the Braves, owning a 3.58 ERA over 211 innings against the division rival. Austin Riley owns a .389 average and 1.180 OPS lifetime against Nola while Marcell Ozuna, Matt Olson, and Adam Duvall have all found decent success against the right-hander as well.

Fried, a lefty, will likely get the Phillies’ right-handed heavy lineup. With a 2.91 ERA on the year, Fried has allowed one earned run in three straight starts, pitching 17.1 innings over those games. Trea Turner has found success against Fried in his career with a .355 average and .928 OPS over 21 at-bats.

Ranger Suarez faces rookie Spencer Schwellenbach on Saturday night. Suarez, who owns a 2.27 ERA on the year, is coming off his worst start against the Marlins on June 30th, where he allowed six runs over 4.2 innings pitched.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Ranger Suarez pitches during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Schwellenbach, meanwhile, makes his first start against the Phillies. Having made six starts thus far, the right-hander owns a 5.68 ERA, averaging just over 5 innings pitched per start. He’s allowed four earned runs in two straight starts against the Cardinals and Pirates.

Sunday’s matchup features Michael Mercado making his second career start for the Phillies while the Braves throw veteran Reynaldo Lopez. Mercado impressed in his first start, pitching 5 innings of one-run baseball against the Chicago Cubs.

With both Taijuan Walker and Spencer Turnbull on the Injured List, Mercado has an opportunity to prove his worth to the Big League squad as they face their top-division rival. Lopez, on the flip side, has been having a strong year for the Braves, currently owning a 1.83 ERA. He has allowed two earned runs in both of the previous two outings.

Players to Watch

Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner have stepped it up as of late for the Phillies. The pair lead the team with nine hits each over the past five games, filling the offensive gap in the absence of Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Turner, the National League All-Star Game starting shortstop, has had success in his career against both Fried and Lopez, though the sample size against Lopez is quite small at 3-for-5 with a home run.

One other player who could make or break the weekend for the Phillies is Whit Merrifield. Merrifield will likely get the start Friday night against the left-hander Fried and should also get the call on Sunday despite Lopez being a right-hander. Merrifield owns a .333 average with two home runs over 42 career at-bats against Lopez. That pedigree of success against Lopez will likely give him the start. Now, Merrifield has performed well below expectations in 2024, owning a .190 average and a measly .559 OPS. This series against the Braves just might be Merrifield’s last opportunity to show the Phillies that he can right the ship and contribute to this playoff-bound team.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Whit Merrifield, center, celebrates after hitting a 3-run home run against the New York Mets during the fourth inning of a London Series baseball game in London, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The Phillies will have to contend with known Phillie-killer Austin Riley this weekend. Riley has found success against Nola and Suarez, hitting a combined .346 against them. Zooming out to his career numbers against the Phillies, Riley has hit .304 with 17 home runs over 75 games.

Where to Watch

Two out of three games are being broadcast nationally as the top two teams in the NL East face off. If you want to watch tonight’s 7:20 contest, you will need an Apple TV+ subscription. Saturday’s 7:15 matchup will be broadcast on FOX while Sunday’s 1:35 matinee will return to NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Time for the Phillies to Prove Themselves

There has been plenty of banter floated around about strength of schedule and the Phillies this season. As the Phillies enter the dog days of July, their mettle will be put to the test. The test begins tonight as the Phillies face the Braves and will continue throughout the month as they face teams like the Dodgers, Twins, Guardians, and Yankees.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum