This weekend, the Phillies will play their most important series since the 2011 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Does that sound like hyperbole? Maybe it isn’t. The Phillies enter their weekend three-game set against the Atlanta Braves with a record of 15-9, the 5th-best record in the NL, 1⁄2 a game behind the New York Mets in the NL East. The Braves are 14-10, one game behind the Phils and 1 1⁄2 games behind the Mets in the East.
Both teams have played better than expected, and both teams are harboring thoughts of playing meaningful baseball as the 2018 season progresses. Wins in April mean the same as wins in September, and both teams are banking victories that not many people thought they would have at this point in the season.
The Braves come in having won four of six against the Phils, with all six games being played in Atlanta. But now, they’re in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are 10-3 this year, despite losing two of three to the Arizona Diamondbacks this week, the team with the best record in the National League (17-7).
The Braves have a run differential of +30, while the Phils are at +25. Atlanta brings the top prospect in the game into town, the incredible Ronald Acuna, who already has his first career home run under his belt.
Oh my, Ronald Acuña!— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 26, 2018
1st @MLB homer
Watch live:https://t.co/mzEj7V78hV pic.twitter.com/wQIHZoyAYG
Yeah, this dude’s going to be a problem for a long time.
But he’s not the only one. Ozzie Albies is a stud. So is Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte. They also have Julio Teheran, who will face the Phils for the third time already this season, taking on Aaron Nola once again on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Phillies feature a starting rotation that has three pitchers with ERAs in the top 12 in the National League (Arrieta 5th, Nola 8th, Pivetta 12th), a superstar of their own in Rhys Hoskins, a potential batting champ in Odubel Herrera, and one of the best leadoff hitters in the game in Cesar Hernandez. They also have a slew of young players who are struggling now but have a world of talent and could break out at any moment.
If the Phillies take two out of three against Atlanta this weekend, it will serve two purposes. First, the Phils will put another game of distance between them and the Braves, giving them a two-game cushion in the division. Second, it will prove to the Braves that, in Philadelphia at least, Atlanta doesn’t have their number.
Atlanta handled the Phils pretty easily down in Georgia, and the Phillies should return the favor in Philadelphia. And let’s imagine for a second if the Phils pull off a three-game sweep. That would put four games of distance between them and the Braves, which is no small thing, even in late April.
Now, if Atlanta wins the series or, heaven forbid, sweeps the Phillies, then maybe the Braves start to think they’re for real. They’ll certainly believe they have the Phillies number.
The winner of this series is guaranteed nothing. After these three games are done, there will still be five months of baseball left. But for two young teams trying to make a name for themselves, a statement series could go a long way to upping the timeline to contention.
On this week’s episode of Hittin’ Season, host John Stolnis previews the Braves series and analyzes the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks with Phillies beat writer Stephen Gross of The Morning Call. Also, with the NFL Draft in full swing, why baseball needs to stop trying to make the MLB Draft just like it.