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Who the heck is Robbie Erlin? Phillies vs. Braves series preview

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Thanks to a weak rotation and lagging offense, the Braves’ first place status seems tenuous

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
The Phillies should be able to score runs against Robbie Erlin
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s understandable that Phillies fans aren’t feeling all that positive right now. The team has lost their last three games, the bullpen is a dumpster fire, and they’re about to play a series against a first place team. But don’t worry, that first place team isn’t nearly as imposing as you might think.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 14-11 (First place in National League East)

The last time they met

The teams split a four-game series in Philadelphia. The Phillies were in the process of humiliating the Braves in the final game of the series, but decided to be polite and let the Braves save face in the last inning.

Since then?

The Braves have gone 3-4 since that series, and their starting pitching aside from Max Fried continues to be a liability. In the early part of the season, the team was largely carried by their offense, but that’s no longer the case. They’re 24th in the majors in runs scored over the past two weeks, and that’s not enough to compensate for a rotation desperately lacking reliable starters.

Spotlight on: Austin Riley

After Josh Donaldson’s departure in free agency, the Braves turned to second-year man Austin Riley to take over at third base. With an OPS of .540 and below average defense, he hasn’t made anyone forget about Donaldson yet. The fact that Donaldson is having all sorts of trouble himself isn’t much consolation for the Braves.

Riley would have likely lost playing time, except the other option for the position is Johan Camargo. Based on his .613 OPS, he doesn’t provide much of an offensive upgrade.

Brief summary of the starting pitchers the Braves will use this series

Max Fried - Fried is indisputably the Braves’ best starter. However, there are reasons to believe he’s not pitching as well as his numbers (3-0, 1.24) ERA would indicate.

Thanks to the Braves’ reliable bullpen, their starters are basically removed from the game any time they run into trouble after the early innings. And if the starters leave any runners aboard, the bullpen (I understand that this may sound strange to Phillies fans) doesn’t allow them to score. Fried has also not given up a home run an entire season, which means that regression is likely to bite him hard in that department, and possibly very soon.

Robbie Erlin - The Braves’ rotation issues have gotten so dire that they’re starting relief pitchers rejected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Erlin signed a minor league deal with the Pirates this offseason, but they quickly soured on him, and exposed him to the waiver wire. The Braves inserted him into their rotation, and he actually did very well his first time out, giving up just one run in four innings. Do I think its remotely realistic that he repeats that kind of performance? No.

Josh Tomlin - What do you do when you’ve got a plethora of good relievers and a dearth of good starters? If you’re the Braves, you try using some of those relievers as starters. Due to being a starter earlier in his career, Tomlin was a natural choice to make the switch. Of course, the main reason he became a reliever in the first place was because he wasn’t any good as a starter.

Prediction

People are understandably down on the Phillies after the past couple of days. But they were similarly down on the team last week, and they rebounded nicely. With Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler scheduled to start, and the Braves showing plenty of weaknesses, the Phillies should be able to take two out of three.