NLDS Playoff Preview: Atlanta Braves vs. Philadelphia Phillies

For the second year in a row, the Braves will host the Phillies for a best-of-five NL Division Series starting at Truist Park.

Bryson Stott of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins in Game Two of the Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 04: Bryson Stott #5 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins in Game Two of the Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 04, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

It’s a rematch of the 2022 NLDS. Philadelphia is fresh off a first-round sweep. Atlanta is well-rested after a first-round bye. The Braves are the clear favorite, but the Phillies are counting on Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to help them pull off an upset.

So, what’s different this time around?

For one thing, the Braves aren’t taking this matchup lightly. Manager Brian Snitker knows the Phillies are dangerous. What’s more, Spencer Strider is fully healthy. It won’t be so easy for the Phillies to knock him around a second time, especially without Rhys Hoskins – he of the famous bat slam – in the lineup.

The Phillies are better this year, but so are the Braves. No matter which team comes out on top, it’s going to be one heck of a fight.

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The Season Series (Braves Won 8-5)

The Braves are the superior ballclub, and they proved as much during the regular season. They took the season series 8-5, outscoring their division rivals 74-58.

May 25-28 (Tied 2-2)

  • May 25: ATL 8, PHI 5
  • May 26: PHI 6, ATL 4
  • May 27: PHI 2, ATL 1
  • May 28: ATL 11, PHI 4

June 20-22 (ATL wins 2-0)

  • June 20: ATL 4, PHI 2
  • June 22: ATL 5, PHI 1

September 11-13 (ATL wins 3-1)

  • Sept. 11: ATL 10, PHI 8
  • Sept. 11: PHI 7, ATL 5
  • Sept. 12: ATL 7, PHI 6
  • Sept. 13: ATL 4, PHI 1

September 18-20 (PHI wins 2-1)

  • Sept. 18: PHI 7, ATL 1
  • Sept. 19: ATL 9, PHI 3
  • Sept. 20: PHI 6, ATL 5

NLDS – Projected Pitching Matchups

NLDS Game One: Spencer Strider vs. Ranger Suárez

Saturday, October 7 at 6:07 PM ET

Neither manager has announced a Game One starter yet, but this is the most likely pairing. Spencer Strider has been his team’s best pitcher all year, and Ranger Suárez was lined up to start a potential Game Three of the NLWCS.

The Phillies roughed up Strider last October, but now he’s entering the playoffs at full strength. Not to mention, he won all four of his starts against Philadelphia this season. With their ace on the mound, the Braves are the clear favorites to win Game One.

Still, that’s no reason to overlook Suárez. He came up big in the postseason last year (1.23 ERA in 14.2 IP), and the lefty can be much more imposing than his 4.18 ERA suggests.

NLDS Game Two: Max Fried vs. Zack Wheeler

Monday, October 9 at 6:07 PM ET

Max Fried has been dealing with a pesky blister for the past couple weeks, but he should be ready to start on Monday. When healthy, he is a bona fide ace. In 14 starts this year, the southpaw had a 2.55 ERA.

Zack Wheeler is an ace himself, as he demonstrated during Game One of the Wild Card round. This could make for an excellent pitcher’s duel.

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NLDS Game Three: Bryce Elder vs. Aaron Nola

Wednesday, October 11 (Time TBD)

Bryce Elder has had a really solid rookie season for Atlanta. He might not be an ace, but he has been a quality start machine, giving his team a good chance to win almost every time he takes the mound.

Aaron Nola is dazzling at his best, and he proved as much with a masterful performance to seal the NLWCS for Philadelphia. If that version of Nola shows up, the Phillies will have the advantage in Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park.

However, Nola has had an up-and-down season, and the homer-happy Braves offense could chase him early if he isn’t at his best.

NLDS Game Four: Spencer Strider vs. TBD*

Thursday, October 12 (Time TBD)

Thanks to some off days in the schedule, Strider will be able to start a potential Game 4 on regular rest. The Phillies could call on Suárez again, but they might prefer to go with a fresh arm and send out Taijuan Walker or Cristopher Sánchez instead.

NLDS Game Five: Max Fried vs. Zack Wheeler*

Saturday, October 14 (Time TBD)

*If necessary

Lineup Comparison

Braves LineupKey Stats
Ronald Acuña Jr. (RF).337/.416/.596, 41 HR, 73 SB, 8.3 fWAR
Ozzie Albies (2B).280/.336/.513, 33 HR, 13 SB, 4.0 fWAR
Austin Riley (3B).281/.345/.516, 37 HR, 5.2 fWAR
Matt Olson (1B).283/.389/.604, 54 HR, 6.7 fWAR
Marcell Ozuna (DH).274/.346/.558, 40 HR, 3.3 fWAR
Michael Harris II (CF).293/.331/.477, 18 HR, 20 SB, 4.0 fWAR
Sean Murphy (C).251/.365/.478, 21 HR, 4.2 fWAR
Eddie Rosario (LF).255/.305/.450, 21 HR, 1.4 fWAR
Orlando Arcia (SS).264/.321/.420, 17 HR, 2.3 fWAR
via FanGraphs
Kyle Schwarber (DH).197/.343/.474, 47 HR, 1.4 fWAR
Trea Turner (SS).266/.320/.459, 26 HR, 30 SB, 3.8 fWAR
Alec Bohm (3B).274/.327/.437, 20 HR, 1.1 fWAR
Bryce Harper (1B).293/.401/.499, 21 HR, 11 SB, 3.3 fWAR
J.T. Realmuto (C).252/.310/.452, 20 HR, 16 SB, 1.5 fWAR
Nick Castellanos (RF).272/.311/.476, 29 HR, 11 SB, 1.0 fWAR
Bryson Stott (2B).280/.329/.419, 15 HR, 31 SB, 3.9 fWAR
Brandon Marsh/Christian Pache (LF)M: .277/.372/.458, 12 HR, 3.4 fWAR P: .238/.319/.417, 2 HR, 95 PA
Johan Rojas (CF).302/.342/.430, 2 HR, 14 SB, 1.4 fWAR, 164 PA
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs

What am I supposed to say? The Phillies have a great lineup, but the Braves have put together one of the best offensive teams in MLB history.

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Anything Philadelphia can do, Atlanta has a guy who can do it better. That might sound harsh, but it’s hard to deny.

Overall, the Phillies draw more walks, but the Braves strike out less often and put more balls in play. Thus, they have Philadelphia beat in all three triple-slash categories.

To be fair, the Phillies have a stronger offense than their season-long numbers suggest. Trea Turner broke out of his slump in August as Bryce Harper continued to recover from offseason Tommy John surgery. At their best, those two can give Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson a run for their money.

Still, the top of the Braves lineup has more high-end talent and the bottom has fewer question marks. It’s going to be tough for the Phillies to keep this offense in check.

Bullpen Comparison

Braves Bullpen

Raisel Iglesias55.210.992.4342.9%2.753.263.31
Jesse Chavez32.110.023.0652.9%1.673.043.31
A.J. Minter64.211.412.9235.1%3.762.903.38
Joe Jiménez56.111.662.2427.9%3.043.593.60
Pierce Johnson62.212.934.3137.2%4.023.893.27
Kirby Yates60.111.935.5236.4%3.284.634.34
Michael Tonkin80.08.442.5938.3%4.284.434.30
Brad Hand53.29.893.6937.1%5.534.024.01
via FanGraphs

The Braves have a capable bullpen, led by closer Raisel Iglesias. Pierce Johnson has been lights out since he came to Atlanta at the trade deadline, and A.J. Minter is a proven left-handed option for the late innings. Joe Jiménez is another reliable arm.

However, the Braves lack the depth of the Phillies bullpen. Jesse Chavez can be dominant, but the 40-year-old only recently returned from a long stint on the injured list. Kirby Yates has been hit-or-miss in his return from Tommy John surgery. Michael Tonkin might not even make the postseason roster after such a disappointing second half. Finally, the Phillies know as well as anyone that Brad Hand can’t always be trusted in high-leverage spots.

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Kyle Wright could provide extra length, but he’s a bit of a wild card right now. The same goes for any other starters who could be temporarily shifted to the bullpen.

If Atlanta’s starting pitchers go deep enough to hand the ball over to Johnson, Minter, and Iglesias, that could spell trouble for Philadelphia. However, if the Phillies can chase the starters early, they could do some damage against the Braves bullpen.

Phillies Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel69.012.33.733.6%
José Alvarado41.113.93.953.9%1.742.802.412.35
Jeff Hoffman52.111.93.342.6%2.412.542.573.25
Matt Strahm87.
Gregory Soto60.19.73.351.3%4.622.823.593.83
Orion Kerkering3.
Seranthony Domínguez50.
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs

Here’s what I had to say about the Phillies bullpen entering the Wild Card round:

The Phillies’ bullpen is dangerous from top to bottom. Craig Kimbrel and José Alvarado make for an excellent righty/lefty closer combo, and Jeff Hoffman has been another excellent high-leverage option. Matt Strahm has been reliable for the Phillies all year.

Meanwhile, Gregory Soto and Seranthony Domínguez have been a little hit-or-miss, but they both have phenomenal stuff. Then there’s Philadelphia’s secret weapon: Orion Kerkering. The 22-year-old quickly rose through the ranks, and after three big league appearances, he already looks like the real deal.

From “NL Wild Card Series Playoff Preview: Phillies vs. Marlins”

Manager Rob Thomson didn’t need to ask for much from his bullpen against Miami, but they did what they needed to do. José Alvarado, Craig Kimbrel, Orion Kerkering, Gregory Soto, and Jeff Hoffman combined for five strikeouts, no walks, and only one earned run in 4.1 IP of relief.

NLDS Prediction

The Phillies have momentum working in their favor, but the Braves are simply a better team. Not only that, but they’re better rested and working with home-field advantage.

Atlanta has the upper hand whenever Strider is on the mound, and the matchups between Wheeler and Fried should be pretty close. Philadelphia probably has the edge in a Nola vs. Elder face-off, but the Braves’ relentless offense can make even the best pitchers look like little leaguers.

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These two teams are closer in true talent than their records suggest, and the Phillies have what it takes to put up a fight. Still, I’d be foolish not to pick the Braves – although the Phillies are more than welcome to prove me wrong.

Braves in four.