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Bryce-less heirloom: Phillies vs. Braves series preview

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Maybe the Phillies are better off without their highly-paid right fielder?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Are the Phillies better off without Bryce Harper?
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Phillies’ series with the Brewers began, I was feeling pessimistic about their chances. They couldn’t seem to sustain success, and were being dragged down by the bottom of the roster. Naturally, they went on to sweep the (formerly) first place Brewers in four games.

What changed? The biggest difference between the Brewers series and all of the inconsistent efforts before that was the absence of Bryce Harper. Based on those four games, it seems obvious that Harper’s presence on the field is hurting his teammates.

We saw our first signs of life from Andrew McCutchen, and since correlation always equals causation, I must assume that Harper’s presence was negatively affecting Cutch. Perhaps two MVP-winning outfielders simply can’t co-exist on the same team, and freed from the burden of sharing the outfield with Harper, Cutch is free to excel once again.

We also got clutch pitching performances from the likes of Sam Coonrod, Hector Neris, and Zack Wheeler. This makes me think that the pitching staff enjoys not having the famous right fielder soak up all the attention, and with the spotlight finally on them, they were able to shine.

I wonder if Joe Girardi has realized what’s going on and will encourage Harper to stay out even longer to “make sure he’s 100%.” It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the team continues to win without Harper, and the manager keeps insisting that he “isn’t ready yet.”

I realize that there are some people who are unfamiliar with my writing, and will stumble upon this article. I learned earlier this year that unless you make sarcasm insanely obvious, people will miss it. (And many people will still miss it, no matter how obvious it is.) So I’m sure there will be at least one Phillies fan out there who just reads the headline and first couple of paragraphs and gets all in a huff about it. Please don’t be that person.

There are also my legions of Braves fans. They’ll waste no time tweeting out something like, “Phillies fans are saying their team is better off without Harper! I knew it wouldn’t take long!” And if any Nationals fans read this, we’ll get a chorus of, “We could have told you that he’s overrated and overpaid! Enjoy the next eleven years!”

Anyway, the Phillies take on the Braves (again) this weekend. It’s unclear if Harper will be able to suit up, but considering his lifetime numbers against the Braves, they’re probably hoping he can’t.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 15-16 (Third place in National League East)

The last time they met

The Phillies visited Atlanta in mid-April and lost the first two games of the series. The Phillies prevailed in the third game thanks in part to the famous “Alec Bohm is safe at home” play. Here’s some Zapruder-like breakdown of the play in case you’ve forgotten about it:

For your viewing pleasure, here are some tweets from Braves fans upset about the call:

As it turns out, ESPN has once again scheduled these teams for Sunday Night Baseball. Will this game be as nerve-wracking as that one was? Based on the Phillies’ propensity for nerve-wracking games this season, I’d say the chances are high.

Since then?

The Braves were so upset by that call that they went on to lose their next three games. Compare that to the Phillies who had a questionable replay decision go against them last Sunday, and then rallied to win the next four games.

Altogether, the Braves have gone 11-12 since that series, but they are on a three-game winning streak after sweeping the Nationals. That’s great if you’re the type to be impressed by a sweep over a last place team.

Carried by Acuña

The Braves currently rank a middling 7th in the National League in runs scored. And they’re only that high because Ronald Acuña Jr. is having an MVP-caliber season. Nobody else in the lineup has an OPS over .800, and even Freddie Freeman is having a down year, batting just .202.

The Phillies need to be VERY careful in pitching to Acuña, and take their chances with the rest of the lineup.

The whirlpool of suck continues to swirl

The Phillies’ centerfield situation remains unresolved. Roman Quinn had a string of not-awful games, which was predictably followed by an injury and a trip to the IL. My guess is that Odubel Herrera will get the majority of playing time this weekend, even though he hasn’t done anything to show he deserves it.

With Jean Segura due back soon, there’s talk that they might try to move Nick Maton to center, even though he’s never played the position before. And as bad of an idea at that sounds, it sadly might be their best option.

The Phillies are also trying out guys in the minor leagues, and Jhailyn Ortiz is seeing some time in center. Because when nobody is a good centerfielder, anyone can be a centerfielder!

Quick Look at the Braves’ scheduled starters

Charlie Morton has hit a rough patch recently. He’s given up nine runs over 10.2 innings in his last two starts. He’s also given up a home run in each of his last four starts. The Phillies haven’t managed to hit one deep in either of his starts against him this season, but it feels as if that’s due to change.

You may remember Ian Anderson as one of the players the Phillies could have drafted #1 overall instead of Mickey Moniak.

You may also remember him as the guy who’s given up three homers to Phillies batters in two starts. Like Morton, he’s coming off a poor outing against the Blue Jays where he allowed four runs in four innings. (No home runs though, so he’s got that going for him!)

On the other hand, Huascar Ynoa has been on a roll lately, allowing no earned runs in his last two starts. After a poor 2020 season spent mainly in relief, he appears to be finding his groove as a starter. The Phillies have had some success against inexperienced starters lately, so we’ll see if that can continue.

Punchable face analysis

This series’ punchable face comes courtesy of infielder Austin Riley.

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

I’m not sure exactly what it is about Austin Riley’s face that is so off-putting. While I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish with his facial hair, I can’t blame it on that. He just sort of gives off a “I’m dead inside” feeling, and you get the impression he might welcome a punch, just so he could feel something.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: The three current Phillies who pitched on May 24, 2019 were Vince Velasquez, Hector Neris, and Chase Anderson. EbbyCalvinLaLoosh was the first to name all three.

This series’ question: Since the start of the 2012 season, what Phillies pitcher has the most strikeouts in a single game against the Braves?

What to expect

  • If a close umpire decision goes in the Phillies’ favor, Braves fans will whine that MLB is conspiring against their team for some reason.
  • The good will brought on by Vince Velasquez’s most recent start will be erased when he’s out of the game before the fifth inning.
  • Bryce Harper will play in at least one game this series. But the rust will show, and he won’t make much of an impact.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

I’ve seen some “Wait until the Braves get their rotation healthy!” talk. But sometimes in sports, you wait so long for everyone to get healthy that the season’s over before they do.