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Time to make up ground: Phillies vs. Braves series preview

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As long as the Phillies’ bullpen gives them a chance, the Braves are vulnerable

MLB: AUG 22 Phillies at Braves
There’s a good chance that this pitch by Robbie Erlin was hit a long way
Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite having a horrible bullpen, a playoff spot is still well within reach of the Phillies. We’ve seen signs that the bullpen has become slightly less horrible lately, so the team could be poised to move up the standings.

This weekend is a terrific opportunity for some advancement, as they’ll be taking on the division’s first place team - a team that has some glaring weaknesses of its own.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 18-12 (First place in National League East)

The last time they met

The Phillies pitching staff wasn’t at its best, and the Braves took two out of three. It wasn’t a great series, but at least it ended on a strong note:

What a surprise, Braves fans are whining

As is their wont, Braves fans spent the following day whining that the runner should have been ruled safe because the catcher blocked his path. They seem to be ignoring the inconvenient truth that the throw brought Andrew Knapp into the runner’s path and beat the runner to the plate.

Part of the problem is that the “Buster Posey rule” is almost intentionally confusing. I believe that since its inception, every single time there’s been a play at the plate, whichever team didn’t get the call, their fans have used the Posey rule to somehow justify why it was incorrect.

The other part of the problem is that Braves fans are the worst.

Since then?

The Braves have only played two games since they last saw the Phillies, and they had the good fortune of playing the Yankees at exactly the right time. Coming off four straight COVID-19-related cancellations, the Yankees were rusty and lost both games of the doubleheader between the teams.

Dead Ender

Ender Inciarte has been a surprisingly valuable player over his career. He has three Gold Gloves to his credit, and even made an All-Star team a few years ago.

Wait...Ender Inciarte made an All-Star team? That doesn’t seem right. Was he especially good in the first half of that season, or did the Braves simply have a dearth of viable All-Star candidates?

Looking at the 2017 Braves roster, it seems that Ender’s selection fits into the latter category. The team lost 90 games, and my guess is that a glut of good first baseman squeezed Freddie Freeman off the roster. So whoever was choosing the reserves for the team figured that a good defensive outfielder would have to do.

The 2020 All-Star Game was cancelled, but based on the way his season has gone, there’s very little chance that Inciarte would have earned his second nod. He’s batting .200 with no home runs, and even his defense has slipped from a Gold Glove level. It’s led more than a few Braves fans to wonder why he’s still on the roster.

The Braves rotation: Still unimposing

The last time these teams squared off, the Braves got a good start from Max Fried, and not-so-good starts from Robbie Erlin and Josh Tomlin. The Phillies will avoid Fried this time around, but they’ll get another crack at the unimposing Erlin and Tomlin. Based on his past success against the Phillies, Erlin is probably super excited to be facing them again.

It’s almost a given that neither man will pitch deep into the game. It’s just a matter of how much damage the Phillies can do before the Braves turn to their bullpen.

The Braves have yet to announce a starter for the third game, but the expectation is that rookie Ian Anderson will get the nod. Anderson pitched well in his debut against the Yankees, but we’ll see if he can repeat that feat against a team that hasn’t been sitting around for four days.

Speaking of the 2017 Braves

As I looked at the 2017 Braves roster, I saw something that amused me: A 44-year-old Bartolo Colon made 13 starts for that team.

The 2017 Braves’ rotation was not sneaky good or any other type of good, and Colon was a big part of the not goodness.

I suppose some optimism was warranted. Somehow, a well-past-his-prime Colon made the All-Star team the season prior. But Father Time is undefeated, and even though Colon held him off as long as anybody, he eventually succumbed as well. Upon joining the Braves, Colon began to pitch like you’d expect a forty-something man to pitch: Poorly.

For years, Colon had frustrated Phillies, but he couldn’t even pitch well against them in 2017. He made two starts against the Phillies, and gave up a total of 12 runs in 10.2 innings en route to losing both games.

As bad as the Braves’ rotation was that season, it’s perhaps telling that two members of it were part of the 2020 team’s Opening Day rotation: Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. Both men have ERAs over 10 and have been bumped from the rotation. That’s a pretty good indication of just how good the current team’s non-Max Fried starters are.

Prediction

The Phillies offense will do its work, and the bullpen will manage to be horrible in at least two of the games, as the Phillies gain a game in the standings.