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The race to the middle continues: Phillies vs. Braves series preview

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A battle of two teams determined not to get ahead in the National League East

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Mediocrity abounds!
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when people were feeling hopeful because the Phillies had won a few series in a row? Thanks to a bunch of COVID-related absences and a poorly played series in New York, those hopeful feelings have mostly gone away. On the bright side, they will now welcome a division rival which seems just as determined to muddle around .500 all year.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 46-48 (Third place in National League East)

The last time they met

The Braves were in Philadelphia in mid-June, and after splitting the first two games, the Braves’ bullpen managed to do just a little worse than the Phillies’ in the finale.

Since then?

The Braves have shown a remarkable consistency, going 17-17 in the games since the last meeting. But because they play in the NL East, that still puts them right in the thick of the race!

Least valuable player

In 2019, Shane Greene was an All-Star closer for the Detroit Tigers. After being traded for to the Braves, he became a valuable setup man, so it seemed like an easy decision for the team to re-sign him in free agency before this season. Greene has made them regret that decision. He’s had a few big meltdowns, and has largely been reduced to a mop-up role.

Replacing Ronald

The Braves have not been helped by the loss of star outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. There’s simply no way to compensate for losing one of the best players in baseball. While it’s a shame to see such a talented player suffer an injury, I probably won’t be THAT sad during this series. In his young career, Acuña had destroyed Phillies pitching with a .317/.410/.561 slash line to go with eleven home runs. (If you think that’s bad, in 56 games against the Marlins, he’s hit 21 homers! No wonder they always throw at him.)

The Braves have tried to compensate by trading for Joc Pederson. Pederson is off to a good start with the Braves (.357 with a home run in four games), but based on his numbers the past two seasons, it’s tough to think he’ll be able to keep it up.

Give them some help, offense!

The pitching staff didn’t do a great job against the Yankees, but they could have been helped out a little more by an offense that left a lot of runners on base. While the relievers have had some well-publicized issues, it’s a little-kept secret that the Phillies’ offense doesn’t do a good job of sustaining their scoring throughout a game. Maybe the bullpen would have better luck if they were asked to protect four and five-run leads, rather than one or two-run leads.

Punchable face analysis

I decided to change things up a bit for this series, and instead of discussing a player from the opposing team, I’ll discuss a character from a commercial often shown during games. You know him, and you most likely despise him: It’s the Liberty Mutual Wet Teddy Bear Guy!

In this day and age, it seems wrong to root for a small business to fail, but sheesh... I think Homer Simpson had a higher opinion of the Leftorium when it first opened than I have of the Wet Teddy Bear stand.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: The 1997 season was not a good one for the Phillies, but my favorite player from that squad was former replacement player Tony Barron. Not only did he have one of the best catches I can remember watching, but he was also the first Phillies to hit a home run against the Yankees. Sadly, apparently I’m the only person to remember Tony since nobody got this right.

This series’ question: There is an active pitcher who appeared in 18 games at Citizens Bank Park while a member of the Braves, and didn’t give up a single earned run in any of those appearances. Who is he?

What to expect

The Phillies will win Matt Moore’s start, because that’s apparently just what they do, regardless of how well he pitches. (Although to his credit, he’s been adequate.)

Considering it’s a four game series where two games will be started by Moore and Vince Velasquez, there will be a lot of relief innings required this series. There’s no way the Phillies’ bullpen doesn’t blow at least one late-inning lead.

I’m pretty sure that Bryce Harper’s contract says he has to hit at least one home run in every series against the Braves.

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

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Phillies could win three (or four???) games this series and put some space between themselves and the Braves? They won’t, but man, wouldn’t that be great?