For the first time since April, the Phillies find themselves trailing in the National League East race. Conveniently, the team ahead of them in the standings is the next one on the schedule.
Record: 40-29, First place in National League East
The last time they met
It was the first series of the season, and the Phillies’ offense was clicking. They systematically dismantled the Braves’ pitching staff, scoring 23 runs in the three game sweep.
Thanks a lot, everybody
The rest of baseball couldn’t cooperate with the Phillies’ efforts to bury the Braves early on, and allowed the Braves to win seven of the next eight games after that opening sweep.
All hail the Braves
The Braves have surged into first place thanks to their current seven-game winning streak. That sounds really impressive, so I guess the Braves have established themselves as some sort of super team.
Or is it the schedule?
A more likely explanation for the Braves’ recent success is that they’ve gone through a very soft spot in the schedule. Their last five series have been against the Nationals, Tigers, Pirates (twice!), and Marlins. None of those teams has a winning record or is higher than fourth place in their division.
The Braves may not be quite as successful now that the schedule makers have switched easy mode off. And these easy wins might not help their seeding in the NCAA Tournament much either.
Braves trail Phillies in RPI. The strength of schedule has flipped the last couple of weeks. Phillies' SOS is now 11th and Braves 18th.— Michael Henshaw (@DarthHenshaw) June 13, 2019
They’re not all hot
While some of the Braves’ hitters have performed very well of late, there are some definite weaknesses in their lineup. Josh Donaldson is batting just .130 over the past two weeks, and Austin Riley hasn’t been much better at .200.
Perhaps Josh Donaldson should worry less about getting hit by bases and accept the free pass to first base with gratitude.
Benches clear between the Braves and the Pirates in Atlanta pic.twitter.com/UgXykuxuIq— The Dugout (@dugoutonline) June 10, 2019
What about the pitching?
The Braves have won seven in a row, but extending that streak much further will be tough since they aren’t starting their best pitchers this weekend. Dallas Keuchel is still a week away from being ready, and neither Julio Teheran nor Mike Soroka are scheduled to start in this series. Instead, we’ll see Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Foltynewicz.
Fried was still in the bullpen the first time these teams squared off. He’s got a 7-3 record, but that doesn’t reflect how he’s pitched lately. He’s given up 12 runs in 15.2 innings in his last three starts.
After beginning the season as a starter, Sean Newcomb was moved to the bullpen. He was pitching pretty well in that role, but with the Braves in need of a starter, he’s getting another chance in the rotation. Being bounced around like that generally isn’t a formula for success, and at the very least, Newcomb probably won’t be able to pitch very deep into the game.
After an All-Star season in 2018, Mike Foltynewicz has had a major drop off this year. His numbers are more in line with his performance in every year of his career besides 2018. He’s been very susceptible to the home run, giving up 15 already this season.
The Braves have lost 7 of 8 Mike Foltynewicz's starts this season. Last season they lost 18 of his 33 starts (including 2 postseason starts).— Mr Fantasy Freak (@Mr_FantasyFreak) June 9, 2019
Stay tuned until the end
The Braves may be winning games, but closer Luke Jackson has done his best to make them interesting. He’s allowed runs in four of his last five appearances. It also might be tougher for them to get to Jackson in the first place, since Newcomb’s move to the rotation deprives the Braves of one of their main setup options.
Luke Jackson = not a closer #braves pic.twitter.com/Ga2WYs0yDG— andy hower (@drew31pa26) June 13, 2019
What about the Phillies’ starters?
Nick Pivetta has pitched well since his return from a minor league demotion, and everyone hopes that he’s finally having that breakout predicted by many. There are still skeptics, and turning in a strong start on Friday would go a long way towards converting them.
The second game will be pitched by Aaron Nola, who has been decidedly un-ace-like this season. Perhaps a game against the Braves will bring out his best since he’s 8-3 with a 2.05 ERA against them for his career. When he faced the Braves on Opening Day, he was a bit wild, but still limited them to just one run in six innings.
As for Sunday’s finale, with Jerad Eickhoff banished to the bullpen, the Phillies have yet to name a starter. They could go with the dreaded bullpen game, or perhaps give Cole Irvin or Enyel de los Santos a shot.
The Braves probably aren’t thrilled to see Bryce Harper again considering what he did to them at the beginning of the series. In those three games he went 3-9 with two home runs and four walks. Hitting well against the Braves is nothing new for Harper. His 27 career home runs against them is the most he’s hit against any opponent. He also seems to be fond of the Braves’ home stadium, with a career 1.138 OPS at SunTrust Park.
The Braves fans will be in for a rude awakening as they once again have to face a capable major league team. The Phillies will take the first two, but unfortunately, the lack of a solid starting pitcher option for Sunday will prevent them from completing the sweep.