It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but the Atlanta Braves find themselves in the exact same place as a year ago, needing to win Game 4 in Philadelphia to stay alive in the Division Series. The Braves are again looking to bounce back from a lopsided loss in Game 3 to try and save their season. The one difference this time around is that they will be giving the ball to Spencer Strider.
Strider of course returned from an oblique injury in Game 3 of the Division Series last year and looked sharp before tiring in the third. The performance was eerily similar to Bryce Elder’s game Wednesday that resulted in a 10-2 loss.
Strider pitched well in Game 1 of the series, allowing two runs while striking out eight over seven innings, but received no support from the offense in a 3-0 shutout loss against Ranger Suarez and the Phillies bullpen.
Strider discussed his preparation for Game 4 ahead of Wednesday’s game and said it was as much about going out there and competing as it is about preparation.
“I have been asked about it before. I feel like I’ve faced the Phillies so many times, it kind of comes up,” Strider said. “With any team, it’s the same. I think you stick to your strengths and there’s sort of an element of randomness that makes it difficult to look too heavily on past outings or past performances just because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Certainly in the postseason, a lot of that strategy and game planning goes out the window and you just gotta go compete and find a way to get the job done,” he added. “So that’s really all I’m focused on doing is just competing as well as I can and putting us in a position to win the game.”
In the final moments of Game 3 Wednesday night, the Philadelphia crowd was chanting “we want Strider.” For better or worse, they are going to get him Thursday. Strider has faced the Phillies eight times in his career during the regular season and has a 1.90 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 47 1⁄3 innings. He has lost both matchups during the postseason where he has a 5.79 ERA that is heavily skewed by last year’s Game 3 performance where he allowed five runs in just 2 1⁄3 innings.
The atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park during the postseason has proven to be one of the biggest home field advantages in baseball over the last few seasons. Strider might be the one guy that the Braves have that is best equipped to deal with the noise and the atmosphere.
“It’s a great place to pitch. I mean, even if you’re not on the supported team,” Strider said. “You got phenomenal fans here that are very passionate, and that’s great for baseball. It’s a good postseason environment, to say the least and I think if you can figure out how to kind of focus on the right things, it’s good energy for you.”
Strider is very meticulous in his daily preparation. He’s done a good job in big moments, but beating the Phillies in their home ballpark is a monster that needs to be slayed if the Braves are to stay alive in the series.
“I think I’m a very detail-oriented and, I guess, purposeful preparer, in a way,” Strider said. “So I think what’s good for me is to sort of set myself in a direction pregame and just in my daily preparation that kind of allows the energy of playing in the Big Leagues, and this October, playing in the postseason, to aid in my competitiveness and my abilities. “I think it’s something that only experience can really provide you is the chance to learn to benefit from that adrenaline rather than it be a problem.”
Splitting the series in Philadelphia would force a Game 5 back in Atlanta on Saturday where Max Fried would match up against Zack Wheeler in a rematch of Game 2. A win Thursday would in many ways give the Braves back the momentum in the series despite the ugly performance in Game 3.
Still, Strider could go throw a shutout and it isn’t going to matter much if the Braves can’t get their offense in gear. Their pitching staff has needed to be nearly perfect over the first three games to even have a chance. After setting regular season records, Atlanta is hitting just .196/.257/.268 with just three extra-base hits and 30 strikeouts over the first three games of the series. After tying the major league record with 307 home runs during the regular season, Bryce Harper’s three homers are one more than the Braves have managed as a team over the first three games.
Spencer Strider is worthy of the big moment in Game 4, will Atlanta’s offense be there to support him?