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Braves square off against the resurgent Phillies in a pivotal division clash

Two of the hottest teams in baseball meet for a three game set

Philadelphia Phillies v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Someone’s six game win streak will be snapped when the red-hot Braves take on the equally-hot Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. The Phillies got off to a slow start, just like last season, but they have come to life in June, going 13-4 to start the month. Despite this, they have not made up any ground on the Braves in the division due to the fact that Atlanta has been ever better, sporting a 13-3 record in June. The Braves have actually gained two games on the Phillies over the last 20 both have played, and have a similar two-game advantage over the last 30 games as well.

The Braves have put together their run despite a midding starting pitching performance. Max Fried and Kyle Wright remain on the shelf with arm injuries, and Spencer Strider has been going through major struggles for the first time in his big league career. As a result, the Braves have literally the worst rotation production over the past 14 days, and are ahead of only the Rockies over the past 30 days. Most teams would struggle with their three best starters from last season being hurt or ineffective, but the Braves are not most teams.

The Braves’ offense and bullpen have been able to pick up the slack, with the offense being particularly impressive. The resurgence of Michael Harris II and the revival of Eddie Rosario has given an already stacked Braves lineup even more depth. Harris has caught fire after a dreadful start to the season at the plate. On June 6th, his OPS sat at .490, but in the past 12 games he has raised it to a .708 clip. The offense was firing on all cylinders against Colorado, where they put up at least eight runs in all four games.

The Phillies have also been on a roll lately, winning the last three games of their four-game series with the Diamondbacks and then sweeping the Athletics. They have been led by Kyle Schwarber’s annual June explosion and improved pitching, especially from Zack Wheeler. Schwarber has seven home runs in his last 15 games, in which the Phillies have gone 13-2. Despite only hitting .187 on the season, he still has an above average wRC+ due to his light tower power. The Phillies’ two best hitters this season have been Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, the latter of whom is having a nice bounceback year. They have a wRC+ of 120 and 129 respectively. Bryson Stott leads all Phillies position players in fWAR, which is quite a surprise given the names on the Phillies roster. Despite underperforming for most of the season, the defending NL pennant winners look to be back on track.

Tuesday, June 20, 6:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South, TBS)

Spencer Strider (14 GS, 78.2 IP, 39.2 K%, 9.3 BB%, 30.1 GB%, 4.12 ERA, 3.33 FIP)

Spencer Strider has been struggling mightily so far in June. The star right-hander has given up 15 runs in 15 innings in his three starts this month to take his season ERA from 2.97 to 4.12. Even worse, his FIP has increased from 2.35 to 3.33 in just those three starts, and even his xFIP has jumped from 2.67 to 3.03. With somewhat diminished velocity and “rise,” his once unhittable fastball has been getting barreled up recently. Strider has still been getting his fair share of strikeouts, fanning over a batter an inning even in his worst starts, but when he has given up contact, it has been hard. He has allowed six home runs during his June swoon, which is the same amount he yielded in April and May combined. For comparison, he allowed seven homers all year in 2022. There were some worrying signs in May, where he had an ERA over four for the month and gave up five home runs compared to only one in April, but nothing could have prepared us for this. He has dominated the Phillies in the past, with a 1.65 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 27.1 innings, so hopefully this could be the start to get Strider back on track.

Ranger Suarez (7 GS, 37.2 IP, 22 K%, 7.5 BB%, 53.2 GB%, 3.82 ERA, 3.06 FIP)

After missing the first six weeks of the season with injury and struggling in his first couple starts back, Ranger Suarez has been sensational in his three starts in June. In 20 innings, Suarez has only given up two runs when facing the Nationals, Dodgers and Diamondbacks, and had a 15/4 K/BB ratio against the latter two teams combined. His best pitch this season has been a big 12-6 curveball that he is throwing 21.6 percent of the time, which is way up from the 7.7 percent rate he threw it last year. Hitters are only batting .069 against the pitch and have a 35.4 whiff rate. This is a new weapon that Braves hitters need to be wary of when facing Suarez. The Braves have seen Suarez quite a bit, with the left hander logging 15 appearances and six starts against the Braves. in his career He has been good in the 42 innings, pitching to a 3.21 ERA, though the FIP and xFIP are notably worse — 4.02 and 3.71, respectively. Despite good starts against quality lineups lately, the Braves will be a big test for Suarez.

Wednesday, June 21, 6:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

AJ Smith-Shawver (2 GS, 13.1 IP, 21.2 K%, 7.7 BB%, 40.5 GB%, 2.03 ERA, 4.48 FIP)

Young AJ Smith-Shawver will face the toughest test of his young career so far when he faces the Phillies lineup. He was one out away from a quality start last time out, but got pulled with two outs in the sixth. An otherwise excellent outing was somewhat spoiled by a pair of solo home runs. He still struck out six and only walked one, which is a good indicator of progress for the 20-year-old right-hander. Smith-Shawver has been tinkering with his pitch arsenal lately. In the minors he was primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, but he has been incorporating a curveball and a changeup with solid success in his young big league career. After softer touches against the Nationals and the Rockies away from Coors Field, it will be interesting to see how he fares against a good offense.

Aaron Nola (15 GS, 94.2 IP, 24.4 K%, 6.3 BB%, 38.3 GB%, 4.66 ERA, 4.16 FIP)

Aaron Nola has been having a down year so far this season, but he is still capable of excellence, as he showed with a dominant one-hit, 12-strikeout outing against the Tigers a couple starts ago. However, his past couple starts after that have not been as impressive. He has eaten innings, pitching into the seventh inning each of his last two starts, but he gave up six and four runs in those starts. In a walk year, there is a lot of pressure on Nola to perform, and he has been struggling. Early in the season, he was not getting many strikeouts, but in his last seven starts, his K/9 has gone back up well over 9. He has been solid in a large sample size against the Braves. He has a 3.51 ERA in 194.2 innings with 9.7 K/9. That said, the Braves bashed three homers off of him earlier this season in what was arguably his worst start this season results-wise.

Thursday, June 22, 1:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Bryce Elder (14 GS, 83 IP, 20.7 K%, 6.6 BB%, 57 GB%, 2.60 ERA, 3.81 FIP)

Bryce Elder was back to his best against the Rockies, going six innings without any walks, while giving up only one run. He was getting the Rockies to pound the ball into the ground with his sinker-slider combo. While Elder only has a K/9 of 7.48 and his average exit velocity allowed is very high, he gets a ton of ground balls and doesn't walk very many batters, which has always been a recipe for success. His advanced metrics predict some regression, but even the most pessimistic projections see him as an above average starter. Somehow, Elder has never faced the Phillies in his career, so it will be fun to see a lineup try to square up Elder for the first time.

Taijuan Walker (15 GS, 77.1 IP, 20.6 K%, 9.7 BB%, 48 GB%, 4.31 ERA, 4.53 FIP)

After being a disaster early in his Phillies tenure, Taijuan Walker has turned his season around, pitching to a 2.70 ERA in his last seven starts, albeit with less-than-inspiring peripherals (3.77 FIP, 4.83 xFIP). His splitter has been key to his turnaround, with the pitch being his primary weapon he throws more than any other pitch. He has gotten 34 strikeouts on the pitch and it has held batters to a .237 batting average. He was brilliant last time out against the Athletics, going eight innings and allowing one run. Walker has been a solid middle of the rotation arm for some time, so his start of the season was always a fluke. However, he has struggled against the Braves, posting a 4.93 ERA, 4.97 FIP, and 4.47 xFIP in 34.2 innings, so that is a trend to remember.

Walker faced the Braves earlier this season and had a weird outing where he had just a 1/1 K/BB ratio and allowed a homer, but came away victorious despite Harris hitting a go-ahead homer off of him, thanks to a Joe Jimenez-Lucas Luetge meltdown in the middle innings.

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