A funny thing happened on the way to the Braves running away with the National League East title: They cooled down. Braves fans might have convinced themselves that their team was an unstoppable dynamo that would never hit a rough patch, but to more level-headed fans, that seemed unlikely.
In the midst of this rough patch, the Braves have to travel to Citizens Bank Park, a stadium that didn’t prove very hospitable for them the last time they visited.
Record: 60-43, First place in National League East
The last time they met
The Braves took advantage of a starting pitcher who isn’t even in the rotation anymore, and another starter who was going through a “heavy body” phase. It would have been embarrassing for them had they not won two of three. And while the Braves have proven able to beat the Phillies in Atlanta, you may want to recall...
The last time they met in Philadelphia
It was the opening series of the season, and the Phillies’ lineup spent three days dismantling the Braves’ pitching staff. Here are highlights from one of those games:
The good times have ended
The Braves are just 2-6 over the past ten days, including losing two out of two games to the awful Royals. Compare that to another NL East team who similarly played two games against an AL Central also-ran, but found a way to win both of their games.
Spotlight on: Austin Riley
The Braves’ rookie outfielder made quite a splash when he debuted in May, with seven home runs in just 15 games that month. But he’s been trending in the wrong direction since then. While he was able to hit another seven home runs in June, it took him 26 games to do so, and his batting average for the month was just .226.
In July, Riley has been downright feeble with the bat. His slash line is .169/.219/.288 and all that early season Rookie of the Year talk has quickly quieted down. He’s now sharing playing time with Ender Inciarte, who isn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball himself.
July has not been kind to Austin Riley:— Frank Stampfl (@Roto_Frank) July 21, 2019
.170/.224/.302, 6.9% BB, 39.7%, 29% hard contact, 24% SwStr, 41.5% O-swing, 22 wRC+
He’s not alone in his struggles
Fellow outfielder Nick Markakis has also not distinguished himself lately. Over the past week, his batting average and slugging percentage are an identical .263, which means he hasn’t recorded an extra-base hit during that time. Considering they’re getting very little offense from two of their outfield spots, it’s no wonder the Braves have struggled lately.
They’d better hit
The Braves need their offense to be in top shape, because the starters lined up for this series aren’t very intimidating.
First up is Mike Soroka. The rookie appears to be having a good season, but the same could have been said heading into his last start against the Phillies. when the Phillies knocked him out of the game with four runs before he could complete five innings. Saturday’s starter is Max Fried, who is returning from a stint on the Injured List. Perhaps the time away will allow him to fare a little better against the Phillies lineup than last time when he surrendered two home runs in less than five innings.
Sunday’s finale will be started by Kevin Gausman. He has been fortunate enough to avoid the Phillies thus far this season, since he has a 5.51 career ERA against them. If that sounds bad, keep in mind that number is actually lower than his current ERA for the 2019 season (5.71).
If the Braves somehow make it to the ninth inning with a lead, they probably shouldn’t feel all that confident. Closer Luke Jackson blew his most recent save opportunity, much like how he blew the game the last time he was in a save situation against the Phillies:
Jackson might be able to rest easy though. Considering the Braves’ relievers have the second highest team ERA in the NL over the past two weeks, it’s unclear if they’re capable of putting Jackson into a save situation.
Flashback of ineptitude: Nate McLouth
In 2008, 26 year old Nate McLouth emerged as an All-Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The following season, with the Braves looking to boost their offense, they traded three pitchers - including future All-Stars Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton - to the Pirates for the outfielder.
The Pirates didn’t end up missing him much.
10 years ago today, the Pirates traded Nate McLouth to the Braves for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez.— Jim Rosati (@northsidenotch) June 3, 2019
That opened the door for Andrew McCutchen to be called up and make his MLB debut the next day.
McLouth was okay for the Braves in 2009 - although it didn’t help them make the playoffs - and then spent the next two seasons being generally awful. He batted .190 in 2010 and improved ever-so-slightly in 2011, raising his average to .228. His home run totals were in single digits both years.
Braves fans do not remember him fondly.
Charlie Morton mowing down Yankees in the #ALCS while Nate McLouth is working at a bowling alley or something. #Braves— Adam Cook (@AdamCookCCN) October 22, 2017
But listen man... If they hadn't dealt Morton, we wouldn't have gotten to bare witness to Nate McLouth, who's most lasting contribution as a Brave was the time he almost killed Heyward in an outfield collision.— Ryan L (@DRLTMN) July 18, 2019
If you're wearing a Nate McLouth Braves jersey t-shirt in 2015, we probably aren't friends.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) April 11, 2015
It would be nice to sweep the Braves at Citizens Bank Park again, but we’ll have to settle for winning two of the three games and inching closer to the top of the NL East.