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Phillies-Braves Series Preview: Can Philly keep the bats hot against the improving Braves?

Your Philadelphia Phillies are tied for the best record in the MLB with the Astros (insert trash can joke here) and the Cincinnati Reds. But they can’t rest on their laurels, and have a prime opportunity with a three-game series in Atlanta to keep their momentum moving forward. The Braves, after being swept in their opening series by the Phillies, played three games (two of them being 7 innings as a part of the doubleheader) and came out winning two of them, with both victories coming from that doubleheader, and losing the first game 6-5.

In their series, the Braves were able to snap out of their Phillies-induced slump at the plate, and in the first inning they played against the Nats, both Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman went yard. They ended up losing on a walk-off single by the Nats young star Juan Soto, but over the course of their three-game series, the Braves hit .215 with 15 runs scored, which was a far cry from their 3 runs over three games against the Phil’s.

The Phillies meanwhile, are coming off an explosive 8-2 win over the Mets, in which they dominated with the long ball. Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, and the BCIB, JT Realmuto all got in on the fun. And ever since Jacob DeGrom was pulled in the first game of the Mets series, the Phillies have scored 17 runs in 20 innings, and safe to say it’d be a huge boost to their chances of keeping the best record in the MLB if they can continue that production.

So now, let’s look at the pitching matchup for each of the three games, and how they align going head-to-head.

Game 1: Wheeler vs. Morton

Getting Déjà vu? Wheeler and Motion already faced off in Game 2 of the Phillies and Braves first series, also known as the ‘Zack Wheeler Game’. But for fun, let’s compare their stats from their first starts and from their previous season.

Previous Starts (Wheeler's numbers are first):

Innings Pitched: 7 vs. 5

Hits Allowed: 1 vs. 6

Earned Runs: 0 vs. 3

Walks Issued: 0 vs. 2

Strikeouts: 10 vs. 5

Last Season (Wheeler's numbers are first):

ERA: 2.92 vs. 4.74

WHIP: 1.169 vs. 1.395

ERA+: 151 vs. 88

H/9: 8.5 vs. 10.2

For reference, here are what those stats mean:

WHIP: Baserunners per inning

ERA+: Adjusted ERA accounting for difficulty of batters faced, ballparks, etc. 100 is average, so 150 would mean that pitcher is 50% better than league average

H/9: How many hits the pitcher, on average, allows over 9 innings

The Phillies should have the better pitcher in this one, especially if Wheeler can build off his performance last time on the mound. And speaking of the last time out, it took until the 5th and 6th innings for the Phillies to crack Morton after a strong start from the Braves pitcher. If the Phillies can come out swinging (and scoring) early instead of having to play from behind against a great Atlanta lineup would bode well for their chances of victory.

Game 2: Eflin vs. Anderson

Hey, I’ve seen this one before too! Zach Eflin and Ian Anderson both took the mound in the third and final game of the last series, with Anderson lasting 5 innings with 4 hits and 88 pitches, while Eflin went 7 strong with 8 K’s, 4 hits, and only 1 Braves run crossing the plate. And again, here’s a comparison of their last full season’s stats, with Eflin’s coming first (also, keep in mind Anderson only faced 138 batters in 32.1 innings last season).

ERA: 3.97 vs. 1.95

WHIP: 1.271 vs. 1.082

ERA+: 111 vs. 251

H/9: 9.2 vs. 5.8

The Phillies blueprint last time should be their same plan of attack, get Anderson’s pitch count up when you can and force the Braves to go to their bullpen. For Eflin, he should just return to what worked last time out (Obvious strategy, but it's easier said than done).

Game 3: Moore vs. Smyly

Hey old friend! The Phillies will face Drew Smyly in game 3 of this series, who appeared in 62.2 innings for them in 2019, and graded out as a just below average pitcher with them. In his one appearance this year, Smyly tossed 6 innings allowing 2 earned runs and striking out 8. Moore is making his second start as a Phillie, after allowing two runs to go along with 4 hits and 74 (!) pitches in only 3.1 innings of action. And here is a stat comparison from their last full seasons, using Smyly’s 2019 (as in 2020 he only pitched 26 innings), with Moore’s 2018 (where he last pitched extensively) coming first.

ERA: 6.79 vs. 6.24

WHIP: 1.657 vs. 1.588

ERA+: 70 vs. 76

H/9: 11.9 vs. 9.9

Series Overview

So, if their past is any indication, game 3 has the best chance of becoming a slugfest for two lineups that seem to be finding their stride. And based off the first series with the progress each team has made sense, the best prediction I can give is a tightly contested one, and I highly doubt either team sweeps the other this time. The difference in this one might be the bullpens, with the Philles non-Vince Velasquez relievers allowing 4 runs through 6 games, which is a major step up from their no good, very bad showing last year. However, when you include Velasquez, he single-handedly doubles that number to 8. So, any reliever other than Vince isn’t the death blow to the Phillies odds of winning like in 2020. The Braves counterpart has been just as strong on the surface, allowing 5 runs in 6 innings. The difference in this series might come down to late game at bats between relievers and stars, which should make for an all-around good time as a fan, especially if the Phillies continue to win.

Where to Watch/Listen

The Phillies and Braves kick off their second series at 7:20 PM on Friday, and it’s available to watch on NBC Sports Philadelphia and you can listen on 94.1 FM. The second game has the exact same start time and ways to watch but on Saturday, and the third and final game of the series is nationally televised on ESPN at 7:08 PM on Sunday.

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