The high-powered offense for the Atlanta Braves short-circuited in their first game in the 2023 NLDS, as the Philadelphia Phillies rode their bullpen to a 3-0 shutout victory to take Game 1 of the Divisional Series.
The first inning was a challenging one for Spencer Strider as the Phillies came out of the gates swinging aggressively. Kyle Schwarber hit a screamer into center field for a leadoff double to get things going. Fortunately, a tailor-made ground ball from Trea Turner ended up getting Schwarber caught at third for the first out of the inning. Turner eventually ended up on third base anyways after a wild pitch and an infield single from Bryce Harper but Strider got out of the first with a 4-6-3 double play to escape the inning with no damage done.
In fact, the first three innings ended up turning into an intense pitchers’ duel as both Strider and Ranger Suarez settled into the game. Suarez had no blemishes on his record other than a leadoff walk to Ozzie Albies (that was wiped out after Albies got caught stealing by JT Realmuto) to start the second inning. By the time the fourth inning rolled around, Suarez had a one-run lead after a walk to Bryce Harper from Spencer Strider proved costly. Strider tried to pick off Harper at first but threw the ball into the stands, giving Harper a free trip to second base on the error. Bryson Stott then cashed in the walk as he hit a single to left to break the deadlock in favor of Philadelphia.
Atlanta finally got their first hit of the game in the fourth inning after Matt Olson smacked one into left field for a single. He made it to second on a fielder’s choice and that was the cue for Ranger Suarez to leave the game. Phillies manager Rob Thomson decided to deploy his bullpen in an aggressive manner as he called upon Jeff Hoffman to deal with the situation. Marcell Ozuna greeted Hoffman to the game with a walk but Michael Harris II struck out swinging to end Atlanta’s first scoring threat of the night.
The task got a little tougher for the Braves once the sixth inning rolled around. That was when Bryce Harper decided it was once again time to partake in his regular role of being a villain for the Braves. Spencer Strider’s first pitch of his one-out at-bat against Harper was a slider that caught just enough of the zone to be dangerous for a hitter of Harper’s caliber. Harper hit a laser beam that was low but still high enough to make it into the Chop House seats for a solo homer that made it 2-0 Philadelphia.
Strider got out of the sixth and the seventh with no more problems and this was a start that anybody would’ve taken without blinking an eye. Strider finished with eight strikeouts and just the two runs allowed but his error and homer allowed ended up making the difference while he was out there. Still, you’d have to imagine that a two-run deficit was anything but insurmountable for a lineup the caliber of Atlanta’s in 2023 and Strider's performance would've been good enough to win on a normal night where the Braves lineup was doing anything of note.
Instead, Atlanta’s bats remained largely dormant for the vast majority of this contest. The task got even tougher for the Braves in the eighth inning, as A.J. Minter ended up getting pulled with two runners in scoring position and one out after Trea Turner singled and stole two bases and then Bryce Harper walked and stole a base. Pierce Johnson entered the game to potentially clean up the mess and while he was able to get a strikeout, he then walked Bryson Stott to load the bases.
That was when JT Realmuto came up to the plate and the count got to 2-2 before a very controversial catcher’s interference call was made on the foul ball for the second strike, which gave Philadelphia their third run of the game. After a short delay due to idiots throwing stuff on the field (don't do that!), Johnson was able to make it out of the frame but now the Braves had just six runs to come up with three runs or more to get back into a good position in this one.
Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the eighth with a walk, which prompted another pitching change from Philadelphia. Matt Strahm became Philly's fifth reliever of the evening and Austin Riley greeted him with a single to put two runners on for Atlanta. Matt Olson hit a fly ball to the warning track that moved Acuña to third and put runners on the corners for Ozzie Albies. Albies hit a ground ball that would've been tough for any normal shortstop to get to, but Trea Turner got into his "Braves Villain" bag and made an incredible diving stop to get the ball to second and then the Phillies turned the double play to end the scoring threat right there. Just like that, the Braves were back to square one with just three outs left to play with.
Raisel Iglesias got the ball in the ninth inning and made no mistakes, so it was up to the lower half of Atlanta's order to get something going in hopes of a dramatic comeback. Unfortunately, Craig Kimbrel made light work of the Braves in the bottom of the ninth and the Phillies won Game 1 of the NLDS on the road against Atlanta for the second year in a row.
You have to give credit to Philadelphia's pitching staff for getting the job done in staggering fashion tonight — it's extremely rare that you see the Braves lose when the other team scores just three runs. It's even rarer to see Atlanta get shut out at home. Now Atlanta's once again in a bit of a must-win situation in the NLDS. They absolutely can't go to Philadelphia down 2-0, so it's on Max Fried to give the Braves another strong start and perhaps most importantly, it's on this lineup to finally get going. They'll have a tall task against Zack Wheeler but if any lineup in baseball should have the power to eventually get things going, it's the Braves. They have to get the job done in Game 2.