Baseball is a unique game where you can spend six months and 162 games and then have it all come down to one five-game series in October. That is where the Atlanta Braves find themselves Thursday heading into Game 4 of the Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves must win Thursday night to force a Game 5 back in Atlanta on Saturday. To do so, they are going to have to play a lot better than they have over the first three games of the series.
Before I get to the pitching matchup, let’s get something out of the way first. The Braves had a banner regular season in 2023 setting multiple offensive records along the way. It is hard to say that it will all be for naught should they lose in Game 4, but the disappointing end would dim their many accomplishments. Atlanta’s offense has looked anemic in this series against the Phillies pitching. They come into Thursday’s game hitting under .200 as a team and have just three extra-base hits total across the three games. Perhaps even more concerning, they have a .257 on-base percentage with seven walks and 30 strikeouts in the series.
The Phillies have done a good job of landing the first punch. Even after the Braves scored first in Game 3, Philadelphia came back and landed a haymaker with a six-run third inning. As bad as the pitching decisions were in Game 3, and they were horrendous for a playoff setting, the simple truth is that many of the Braves’ flaws were covered up during the regular season by an exceptional offense that just hasn’t shown up in the postseason. Forget winning the series, if they are just going to force a Game 5, then that has to end Thursday night.
As Game 3 ended, the crowd at Citizens Bank Park chanted “we want Strider.” They are going to get their wish in Game 4. Strider has had plenty of success against Philadelphia in his career, but struggled in Game 3 a year ago when he made his return from an oblique injury that cost him the final weeks of the regular season. Strider’s calm demeanor probably makes him the Braves best option to succeed in the Philadelphia atmosphere. Let’s make no mistake about it. This is a legend-making opportunity for Strider given the circumstances. This could be where Atlanta responds to the punch that Philadelphia landed in Game 3 and delivers their own. But, he isn’t going to be able to do it alone.
The Braves handled left-handed pitching better than any other team during the regular season and they will get another crack at Ranger Suarez in Game 4. Suarez started Game 1 and allowed just one hit and one walk over 3 2⁄3 scoreless innings. He was less than pleased about the early hook, but got the game off the ground and Phillies manager Rob Thomson was very aggressive with his bullpen which helped hand Atlanta its first home shutout since 2021. Suarez is one of the few lefties that has had success against this group of Braves in his career, but getting off to a quick start and landing the first punch is paramount for Atlanta Thursday night.
With their season on the line, the hope is that we see a little more urgency not just from the players, but the coaching staff as well. Trusting the process and not getting too high or low is one thing, but a loss means that what comes next is pitchers and catchers reporting in February.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, October 12, 8:07 p.m. ET
Location: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Radio: ESPN Radio, 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan