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How the Braves could beat the Phillies

This isn’t an analysis. It’s a simulation.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

For the past few years, I’ve dabbled in models to simulate games. These models are really “for entertainment purposes only,” in the sense that they spit out detailed game results, but aren’t as predictive, at a macro level, than others — because that’s not their point. In seasons past, ahead of playoff series, I used one of these models to throw together “How the Braves might win” and “How the Braves might lose posts.” For this season, I built a new model which does a lot more granular simulation of where ball are hit and what happens to them, based on the actual things that have happened this season for each team’s batters and pitchers.

In keeping with how I did this before, I simply ran this model once and reported the results. Those results, detailed below, reflect a three-game sweep. Is that because the Braves are super-likely to sweep the Phillies in three games? No way! It’s just what this model run happened to pull out. For the sake of interest, I will say that I tried to scan through for a Phillies win to do a “How the Phillies could beat the Braves,” and by coincidence (not any degree of predictiveness), the next few runs also featured Braves winning the series, often in silly-yet-predictable ways (like getting completely shut down until the third time through and then destroying the opposing pitcher in one inning and cruising to a win). So I probably won’t pair this with a post showing an adverse outcome for the Braves; in the interim, feel free to enjoy this as an overly-detailed but completely meaningless snapshot of the model outputs of one set of three games.

Game 1: Ranger Suarez vs. Max Fried

This game starts in a non-unusual fashion early, as Dansby Swanson takes Ranger Suarez deep in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. However, Matt Vierling hits a solo shot of his own in the top of the third, tying the game. It doesn’t stay tied for long, though, as Michael Harris II unties it with another solo homer. (Yes, Harris homering off a lefty is weird, but this is one PA in one game of one simulation.) Harris later doubles with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but the Braves can’t bring him home.

Things get more interesting in the sixth. Fried is left in to start his third trip through the order, and walks Schwarber to start said trip. Rhys Hoskins singles, and Harper hits an almost-but-not-quite fly ball that lets Schwarber tag up and take third with J.T. Realmuto up next. In a bit of weirdness, Realmuto hits a swinging bunt into no-man’s land. Schwarber chugs down the line trying to tie it, but Matt Olson is able to flip the ball and get Schwarber tagged out at home. Fried escapes the frame with an Alec Bohm flyout.

Suarez ends up leaving after 5 23 with a 7/0 K/BB ratio, but two homers allowed. Fried hits Nick Castellanos with a pitch to start the seventh, ending his day. His final line includes an 8/1 K/BB ratio, the HBP, and the homer to Vierling. The sim-Braves probably feel pretty good about three innings of their bullpen with a lead, but Raisel Iglesias subverts expectations by starting his postseason with a game-tying double by Jean Segura that lets Castellanos chug around the bases from first. Vierling follows with a single that puts Segura on third, with none out. But, Iglesias bears down to strikeout Stott, Schwarber, and Hoskins to keep the game tied.

The bullpens then keep the game quiet through regulation. Kenley Jansen gives up a leadoff single, but ends his inning with a double play ball from Stott. Jose Alvarado pitches the bottom of the ninth and issues a leadoff walk to Ronald Acuña Jr., but the Braves’ next three balls in play can’t find grass or dirt or stands, sending the game to extras.

Dylan Lee pitches the top of the tenth, gives up a leadoff single to Bryce Harper, but sends the game to the bottom of the tenth, scoreless. Seranthony Dominguez then has another meltdown against the Braves to end this game. Olson singles to lead off the bottom of the 10th, William Contreras bloops a single to right, and Orlando Arcia follows by dunking one over short to load the bases with none out.

Dominguez follows by starting his PA 2-0 against Harris, throwing a strike, and then throwing two more balls to end the game.

Game 2: Zack Wheeler vs. Spencer Strider

This result had some weird stuff for Strider, which you can mentally headcanon as him being rusty or somewhat injured despite being able to make the Game 2 start. Strider’s first strikeout doesn’t come until Philadelphia’s eighth-place hitter, in the third. Still, he keeps the runs off the board.

Arcia, batting ninth, singles to start the third against Wheeler. After two grounders, he’s on second with two out, and Harris knocks him in with a single.

However, Harper takes Strider deep in the next frame to knot the game at one apiece. Strider starts to flag in the fifth; he gets two tough-fought strikeouts but has to leave after 4 23 with a 4/0 K/BB ratio and the Harper homer on his line.

After Arcia singles again in the fifth, this time with one out, the Braves tag Wheeler a bit the third time through — Swanson hits a two-out double that gives them a lead and chases the Philly starter. But, that’s all the Braves get.

Iglesias is asked to pitch the seventh, and his inning here is kind of a reprise of his problems the prior night. Realmuto and Bohm start the frame by singling, Castellanos hits a hard liner for an out, and Brandon Marsh draws a walk to load the bases. Segura follows with a soft fly to left, where Marcell Ozuna is hanging out. Ozuna tries to make a sliding catch and has the ball bounce around everywhere. Since the runners have to wait and see the result of the Ozuna experience, the net result is just everyone advancing a base and tying the game as a result. Like the prior night, Iglesias recovers to strike out Stott, and gets Schwarber to fly out to prevent the Braves from falling behind.

In the bottom of the seventh, both Arcia and Swanson single off Alvarado, but they can’t break through. In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies again hand the ball to Dominguez, who again blows the game for them. Riley starts things with a single, Travis d’Arnaud walks with one out. William Contreras has a swinging bunt that ends up loading the bases, and Ozuna unloads them with a two-run single. Arcia, who was 3-for-3 coming into his PA, hits into a double play.

Jansen gets two outs, walks Marsh, but then gets a fly ball from Segura to end the game.

Game 3: Kyle Wright vs. Aaron Nola

With the Braves up 2-0, the venue shifts to Philadelphia, and this game would’ve been excruciating for the Phillies to watch if it were real. The Braves start the game against Aaron Nola with an Acuña double, but two grounders and a liner right to Stott at short keep them from scoring early. The next Braves frame, a leadoff walk is erased on a d’Arnaud double play ball. Meanwhile, Kyle Wright throws two perfect innings, despite two crushed liners in the second.

The third features an Aaron Nola meltdown — the kind that he’s had here and there against the Braves, but probably worse given that it’s a (fake) elimination game. All of it comes with two outs. Acuña singles, and Swanson follows with a ground-rule double. Nola pitches around Harris trying to get him to swing, but that backfires because he ends up walking Harris, and then also Riley, to drive in the first run of the game. The Phillies don’t pull Nola at this point, and things snowball. Olson doubles to make it 3-0, and then d’Arnaud does so as well for a 5-0 lead.

Wright allows some baserunners and a run in the third, as Marsh hits a leadoff double and scores on a Stott single.

At this point, things get silly. The Philles keep sticking with Nola, though he can’t get outs via strikeout and is reliant on outs on balls in play. He escapes a bases-loaded jam in the fourth thanks to a double play from Harris; Riley hits a leadoff double in the fifth but is stranded. The Braves get basically a blessing from the baseball gods in the bottom of the fifth, as Wright goes 1-2-3 with each Philly batter making a hard lineout. Wright retires (not always due to his own work) the last 11 batters he faces and has an 8/0 K/BB ratio in the game, but gives up tons of hard contact by staying around the plate in the process.

Nola finally leaves after walking Swanson to start the seventh. He has an absurd 1/5 K/BB ratio. The Braves don’t reach base against the Philadelphia bullpen for the rest of the game. Dylan Lee starts the seventh by allowing back-to-back singles; a double play ball from Bohm restores order but at the cost of making it a 5-2 game. A.J. Minter allows a two-out single but nothing else.

To end this sim-game and sim-series, sim-Jansen has to make it real dicey. He gets the first two outs, but Realmuto triples, and Bohm knocks him in. Jansen then walks Castellanos to bring up Marsh. Marsh slices a hard liner to left, but like the other six hard liners the Phillies hit in this game, it is flagged down by defensive replacement Guillermo Heredia instead of tying the game, giving the Braves a sweep. While my model doesn’t calculate xwOBA, it’s safe to say the Braves got really, really out-xwOBAed in this game, but won anyway.

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