After a 4-4 road trip, the Atlanta Braves will return home for a six-game homestand that will begin with a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Counting this series, Atlanta still has seven more games remaining against Philadelphia, so how they perform head-to-head will go a long way in determining where they finish in the division race. The Braves are 8-4 so far in September and have split 12 games against the Phillies this season.
Atlanta dropped four of their last five to finish their road trip after a 3-0 start. Fortunately, the Mets have been struggling at home, so the Braves have been able to keep pace in the division standings. A lot of their recent struggles can be traced back to the performance of several of their top hitters. Ronald Acuña Jr, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley and Matt Olson combined to go 0-for-16 in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Giants to end the trip. Riley and Olson were a combined 7-for-61 with 18 strikeouts during the West Coast run. Riley and Acuña are hitting well in September in terms of xwOBA but have much worse outputs; Olson has had a dreadful two weeks at the plate.
Acuña didn’t light it up on the trip either, but did have a pair of two-hit games before going hitless Wednesday. He played right field for the first time in 12 games in Wednesday’s loss and appeared to be moving better at the end of the trip picking up three stolen bases in his last six games. More help could be on the way in second baseman Ozzie Albies who could return to the active roster for Friday’s series opener. Albies, who is currently on a rehab assignment with Gwinnett, played all nine innings on Tuesday and Wednesday and appeared to be moving well.
The Phillies have won five straight games and are scheduled to wrap up a three-game series in Miami Thursday night. They are 80-62 on the season and are eight games back in the NL East standings entering play Thursday. The last time Atlanta faced Philladelphia, they were without second baseman Jean Segura and outfielder Bryce Harper, both of whom were on the Injured List. Harper returned on August 26 after missing two months with a broken thumb. He is hitting .260/.391/.439 with two home runs and a 130 wRC+ in the 16 games since his return.
Overall, the Phillies have had a season substantially slowed down by a 21-29 start. They went 19-8 in June and have played at a 100-win pace even after June, but are held back by that poor start and the fact that two of the best teams in the NL are both in their division. They’ve also been pretty streaky: eight streaks of four or more wins, and four streaks of four or more losses. By comparison, the Braves only have five streaks of four or more wins (and no four-game losing streaks); the Mets only have four such streaks.
In aggregate, the Phillies are kind of like the somewhat-worse Braves so far in 2022. The Braves are seventh in position player fWAR (eighth in hitting, 13th in defense), while the Phillies are 11th due to bad defense (ninth in hitting, 28th in defense). The Phillies do have a slight edge in pitching value (they are second, Braves are fourth), with MLB’s second-best rotation (Brave are fifth). The Braves do have a bullpen edge, but as much fun as it is to jeer at the Phillies’ relief corps, it’s been more than fine (Braves are third, Phillies seventh).
J.T. Realmuto leads the Phillies with 5.8 fWAR, a career high for him already. Harper has a 160 wRC+ and a .401 xwOBA on the year. Aaron Nola, whom the Braves will face on Saturday, is second in MLB in pitching fWAR with 5.4.
Friday, September 16, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Ranger Suarez (25 GS, 134.1 IP, 20.0 K%, 8.8 BB%, 3.62 ERA, 3.64 FIP)
Left-hander Ranger Suarez will get the start for the Phillies in Friday’s opener. Suarez will be making his 26th start of the season and has put together a solid season that’s still kind of a disappointment given how great he was in a smaller set of innings last season. Suarez has struggled a bit of late on paper, allowing nine runs over his last three starts (14 1/3 innings). In two of those outings, he failed to make it past the fourth inning. He allowed seven hits and four runs over 6 2/3 innings in his last start against the Nationals. But, his recent performance is in line with his season-long peripherals, and those last few starts are mostly just a case of a pitcher being BABIPed to death.
Suarez has faced Atlanta three times already this season and has allowed 16 hits and nine earned runs in 16 innings. The Braves won two of those games, and led in the third before Bryson Stott homered off A.J. Minter. That game was started by Max Fried, who will face off with Suarez again on Friday night.
Max Fried (27 GS, 169.1 IP, 23.1 K%, 4.2 BB%, 2.50 ERA, 2.62 FIP)
Max Fried will take the mound in Friday’s opener and will be making his 28th start of the season. Fried turned in a solid performance in his last start, where he allowed five hits and two runs in six innings against the Mariners. Both runs came on solo homers and was the first time all season that he had allowed multiple home runs in a start. Despite no other damage, that start dinged his fWAR, and with the Braves failing to knock Carlos Rodon around on Wednesday, it seems unlikely that Fried will be able to pull ahead in the pitching fWAR race at this point. Prior to his last start, Fried had allowed just two home runs combined in his last 14 outings.
Fried has faced the Phillies twice this season and both games have featured late-inning dramatics, with the Braves winning in walkoff fashion in one, and losing due to a late homer in the other. Fried has lasted six innings each start with a combined 13/2 K/BB ratio, but has had five runs charged to him in the process.
Saturday, September 17, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network)
Aaron Nola (28 GS, 179.1 IP, 28.6 K%, 3.4 BB%, 3.31 ERA, 2.63 FIP)
Aaron Nola will get the call for the Phillies on Saturday. Nola is among a small group that is in contention for the NL Cy Young Award, which theoretically also includes Max Fried and Spencer Strider. After allowing a season-high eight runs in his final start of August, Nola held the Marlins to just four hits and a single run in 6 2/3 innings to start September. He had his last start in Washington cut short to just two scoreless innings thanks to a lengthy rain delay. Nola held the Braves to just one run over 8 1/3 innings back in May. Since then has faced them two more times and allowed 14 hits and nine runs in 13 innings, with the Phillies splitting those two games.
13 of Nola’s 28 starts this season have featured an FIP under 2.00; he has six starts with an xFIP under 2.00, and seven starts with a Game Score (v2) above 80.
Jake Odorizzi (18 GS, 89.0 IP, 18.2 K%, 7.2 BB%, 4.15 ERA, 4.35 FIP)
Jake Odorizzi’s return to the rotation during the road trip didn’t go well as he failed to escape the fourth inning while allowing five hits, three walks and four runs. He will be looking for better results when he makes his seventh start in an Atlanta uniform in Saturday’s game. The Braves had skipped Odorizzi’s spot in the rotation after he was dealing with some arm fatigue.
This is a horrible matchup for the Braves. They haven’t had a worse matchup in exactly a month (Odorizzi vs. Max Scherzer), and haven’t had a worse matchup since a Strider/Jacob deGrom game on the road earlier in August.
Sunday, September 18, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network)
Bailey Falter (16 G, 12 GS, 68.2 IP, 20.8 K%, 4.6 BB%, 3.80 ERA, 4.88 FIP)
Left-hander Bailey Falter will get the start for Philadelphia in Sunday’s finale. Falter’s season got off to a tough start, but he has pitched well since rejoining the rotation in late August. Falter had a 119/161/142 line in four relief appearances in April, a 118/113/107 line across seven spot starts from May through July, and a totally fine 59/93/98 line in his last five starts, which have come as part of a regular schedule.
Falter allowed just four hits and one run over six innings in his last start against Miami. He’s allowed two runs or less in four of his last five starts. Falter has never faced the Braves despite appearing in 38 major league games so far.
Spencer Strider (30 G, 19 GS, 125.2 IP, 38.0 K%, 8.3 BB%, 2.72 ERA, 1.75 FIP)
Spencer Strider will close out the series for Atlanta Sunday. Strider allowed a season-high nine hits in his last start in San Francisco, but gave the Braves a chance to win allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings. He still managed to strike out nine and has 34 punch outs and just four walks in his last three starts combined. Strider needs just eight more strikeouts to reach the 200 mark for the season.
Strider has pitched in three games against the Phillies, all three Braves wins. He had a 5/2 K/BB ratio in 2 2⁄3 innings in his last relief appearance of the season in an 8-4 Braves win. He then pitched in back-to-back games against the Phillies in late July and early August, with a 6/1 K/BB ratio and a solo homer allowed in one, and a 13/1 K/BB ratio and no homers allowed in the other.