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The Braves, Again: Phillies vs. Braves Series Preview

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With first place on the line, the Phillies will once again face their rivals from Atlanta

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth time this season, the Phillies will take on the Braves in a three-game series. With the Phillies only 1.5 games back of the National League East leading Braves, this is arguably the most important series that the Phillies have played in at least six years.

Will the Phillies step up and give us hope that they will actually be true contenders in the East? Or will we be left shaking our heads trying to figure out why they can’t seem to beat the Braves?

The season series so far

As mentioned, this is the fourth time these teams will be facing each other in 2018, which seems absurd since it’s only mid-May. Each of the previous series have played out in similar fashion: The teams split the first two games, and then Brandon McCarthy outpitched Vince Velasquez in the finale.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a safe bet that this series will turn out differently, if only because this time around, Velasquez and McCarthy will face off in the second game, rather than the third.

The Braves and Their Annoying Comebacks

The Braves have an annoying habit of making comebacks in games which they seem to have no business winning. Remember how fun it was to watch the Braves make a big comeback on Opening Day? If you want to avoid flashbacks, I’d suggest not watching this:

Braves Offense vs. Phillies Pitching

Heading into the season, very few people predicted the Braves would have a great offense. First baseman Freddie Freeman was a known entity, but he seemed to be the only major threat in the lineup. Naturally, we’re over a month and a half into the season, and the Braves are leading the National League in OPS and runs.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How have they done it? A combination of young players developing quickly and veterans having inexplicably strong seasons. At age 34, Nick Markakis is on track to have the best offensive season of his career, and since coming over to the National League, Kurt Suzuki has been one of the best hitting catchers in baseball.

On the other end of the age spectrum, rookie Ronald Acuna looks like he’s going to live up to the considerable hype surrounding him, while second-year second baseman Ozzie Albies is tied for the National League lead in homers.

The Braves have averaged six runs per game against the Phillies this season, so the Phils’ starters will need to do a better job this time around. Velasquez has been particularly bad against them, with a brutal 9.24 ERA in his three starts.

In the opener, the Phillies will send Nick Pivetta to the mound. Pivetta has pitched well in his last two starts, and earned a win over the Braves in a start earlier this season. The finale will be started by Jake Arrieta, who has not faced the Braves thus far this season. For his career, he’s had success against them, with a 2.76 ERA across five starts.

Braves Pitching vs. Phillies Offense

In the opener, Mike Foltynewicz will get the start for the Braves. Prior to this year, Folty hadn’t seemed like anything special, but in his age 26 season, he may be putting it all together. He’s pitched well against the Phillies, with a 2.12 ERA, although the Phillies did win two of the three games he started.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In game two, McCarthy will once again oppose Velasquez, a matchup that’s gone very well for the Braves. McCarthy’s ERA of 5.05 seems high, but that’s largely due to two horrid starts at the beginning of the month. In his last outing, he rebounded to limit the Cubs to one run over six innings.

In the finale, rookie Luiz Gohara will make his first start of the season after three relief appearances. Most prospect rankings had Gohara in their top 50 coming into the season, although opposing Jake Arrieta is a tough job for even the most highly touted rookies.

Despite the Phillies’ lack of success against the Braves, some of their hitters have done some damage against Atlanta pitching. Odubel Herrera has a .877 OPS against them, and Rhys Hoskins is even better at 1.026. On the other hand, one of the reasons for Carlos Santana’s slow start to the season is because he’s struggled against Braves pitching.

Boo This Man

Fomer General Manager Ruben Amaro may have done a lot of good work towards building the current Phillies’ core, but one member of the Braves is proof that even Amaro could make a mistake sometimes.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies claimed outfielder Ender Inciarte in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, but after designating him for assignment during the 2013 season, Inciarte was returned to the Diamondbacks. He eventually made his way to the Braves where he has won two Gold Gloves, made an All-Star team, and is currently leading the league in stolen bases.

Just Like Old Times?

It will be interesting to see the attendance figures for the series. Despite the Phillies’ strong start, the fans have yet to turn out in force, as many people were either distracted by the 76ers, or skeptical that the Phillies were for real.

Faced with the first meaningful home series in quite some time, will the fans take notice and show up to support the team?

Prediction

Looking at the Braves, they just don’t seem to have a “Best team in the NL” type of roster. And they certainly don’t seem like the type of team that should consistently dominate the Phillies. When the series is over, the Braves will still be in first place, but their lead will have been reduced to half a game after the Phillies take two out of three.