What better way to open up the slate this week than watching a divisional series playoff matchup in the truest sense. Two teams who battled it out in the National League East all season meet once again, this time on the grand stand of the National League Division Series.
The Braves won the NL East this season, chasing down the Mets to win their fifth-consecutive division title. Meanwhile the Phillies were the proverbial punching bag for those top two teams, going 13-25 against the pair of 101-win teams that lived atop their division.
Philly never was able to legitimately push for the division, but they always comfortable stayed in contention with the Wild Card and they now represent the best puncher’s chance team in the sport. A lineup packed with star power in the form of Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber, with a starting rotation that features two of the best in the game today.
The Atlanta Braves are the far superior team in every metric you want to look at, yet the Phillies just dismantled the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card round and have some momentum on their side. Will this play out how it is supposed to, or do the Phillies have a little more magic in them?
Find out at 1:07 p.m. ET today on Fox.
Season Series: Braves Won 11, Phillies Won 8
Looking at the season series between two divisional opponents is fascinating because there is a lot of history to draw on here. These teams met 19 times during the regular season, roughly 12 percent of their schedule. The Braves won three more games, but the Phillies did play them competitively nearly all season.
The Phillies split three of the six series they played against the Braves this year and won one series back at the end of July. The Braves beat the Phillies twice, sweeping them in the middle of September in a three-game series.
While the Braves have been the better team all year, the Phillies certainly have the potential to get the last laugh over a five-game set.
With only the Game 1 starter announced by the Atlanta Braves up to this point, it is anyone’s guess what the pitching matchups will really be throughout this series. We do know that it will be a battle of lefties to kick things off, with Ranger Suarez facing off against fellow lefty Max Fried.
The strength of the Phillies rotation lies in their top two arms, as Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola just completed a Wild Card round where neither of them allowed an earned run over a combined 13 innings of work. Wheeler and Nola will be pitching Game 2 and Game 3 respectively.
From there, the Phillies will either start Bailey Falter or Noah Syndergaard in Game 4, if necessary. Game 5 would bring a return of Suarez with Wheeler available to pitch out of the pen on short rest.
Beyond Fried in Game 1, the Braves are likely to start Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton in this series. Fried would handle a do-or-die scenario in Game 5 if necessary. This leaves one start left to be filled, which could go to their rookie standout, Spencer Strider.
Strider is the latest Brave to sign a long-term contract extension, as he was just minted with a six-year, $75 million deal yesterday. Strider has been an effective weapon out of the bullpen in the past and could be deployed there again this series if the Braves want to be cautious with him coming off an oblique injury that cut his regular season short.
Atlanta could wait to see how the series is playing out before making that decision, because it would ultimately be more important for Strider to be available to start against the Dodgers or Padres in a seven-game series in the next round. If Strider doesn’t make the start, the Braves will likely lean heavily on their elite bullpen to cover innings in that other game, with Bryce Elder representing a potential option to start.
Bullpen is where the Braves have the biggest advantage in this series, as we ranked them as the third-best pen among teams entering the playoffs, while we had the Phillies ranked dead-last.
Who Has the Better Lineup?
Would you believe that across the entire 162-game season, with over 6,000 plate appearances from each team, the Braves and Phillies hit for an identical .253 average this year with the same .317 on-base percentage?
The difference however was in slugging, with the Braves holding a 21-point advantage over their division foe. Atlanta packs the bigger home run punch, hitting an NL-best 243 this season. The Phillies weren’t too far behind though with 205 longballs.
The Braves had seven hitters with at least 15 home runs this season and four of them had at least 20. Austin Riley and Matt Olson pack the biggest punch in the lineup, but Dansby Swanson, William Contreras and Michael Harris II have all proven they can leave the yard at any time. That’s not even mentioning Ronald Acuna Jr. who only hit 15 this year, but is swinging a hot bat and hit over 40 home runs in the past. Keeping the ball in the yard will be vital for the Phillies chances.
While the Braves lineup had the better season, there is no reason to think the Phillies can’t pack a better offensive punch in a five-game series. They have the best hitter in this matchup with two-time MVP Bryce Harper, as well as the best home run hitter in Kyle Schwarber.
J.T. Realmuto had a fantastic season where he posted a 128 wRC+ and eclipsed both 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases from the catcher position. Rhys Hoskins had a 30-home run season, Alec Bohm has one of the smoothest swings you are going to find and Jean Segura is a very tough out. Not to mention that Nick Castellanos was a great hitter in the past, who just endured an uncharacteristically bad season.
Again Atlanta is the better team, but across a five-game series anything can happen.