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Braves return to Truist Park to face the Phillies

Braves try to avoid prolonging their post clinch hangover

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After a disastrous series in Miami, the Atlanta Braves will try to get back on track when they come back home to play the Philadelphia Phillies. After clinching their sixth straight NL East title, the Braves clearly took there eyes off the ball, and a Marlins team fighting for their playoff lives made them pay. The pitching staff was especially out of sorts, giving up at least nine runs in all three games.

If the Braves pitching doesn’t right the ship, the Phillies have more than enough fire power to make them pay. Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Bryce Harper are all red hot right now, with all three posting an OPS of at least 1.093 over their last 30 games. Turner is especially scorching, with 14 home runs and a .762 slugging percentage over his last 30 games. In what was by far the worst season of his career before August, Turner now has a 111 wRC+ and nearly 4 fWAR. Harper has found his power stroke, with 10 of his 17 home runs coming in the past 30 games, looking more like his pre-Tommy John self.

These contributions, in addition to a quality pitching has put the Phillies in a position where a playoff birth is a near certainty. Likely locked into the number one wild card spot, the Phillies also have a good chance of running into the Braves in the NLDS, so this series could be a preview of that matchup.

Ronald Acuña Jr. missed his second straight game with a sore calf Sunday. He is set to be reevaluated Monday.

Monday, September 18, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Zack Wheeler (29 GS, 175 IP, 27.3 K%, 4.9 BB%, 41.5 GB%, 3.70 ERA, 3.17 FIP)

Outside of Spencer Strider, there may not be a more unlucky pitcher in baseball than Zack Wheeler. Despite leading all pitchers in fWAR and posting a 3.17 FIP and 3.19 xERA, Wheeler has a 3.70 ERA that was not helped by his five inning six run performance last time out against the Braves. Wheeler’s big adjustment this year, like it has been for so many pitchers, was adding a sweeper. Last year he threw his hard slider 26.9% of the time, but this year he has cut that down to 14.9%. He now throws his sweeper 12.2% of the time, cutting back on his slider usage to do so. The pitch has been effective with a 41.2 whiff% and a .195 batting average against. It is now his primary secondary pitch against righties. He is still a fastball heavy pitcher, throwing a 4-seamer or sinker 61% of the time, but the sweeper has added a new element to his game. Wheeler has a lot of experience against the Braves, with 26 starts and 164 innings against them. He has been good in those innings, posting a 3.24 ERA and averaging 6.3 innings per start.

Kyle Wright (6 GS, 21.2 IP, 20.7 K%, 10.8 BB%, 55.6 GB%, 7.48 ERA, 4.41 FIP)

After a phenomenal breakthrough campaign in 2022, where Wright won 21 games and had a 3.19 ERA, 2023 has been a huge let down for the former fifth overall pick. Shoulder issues have held Wright to only 21.2 innings, and when he has pitched, he has not looked like the same guy from 2022. His velocity has been down over a tick in velocity and his command has not been there. In his first big league outing since May 3rd, Wright was roughed up by the Phillies, going three innings and allowing six runs. The velocity on his fastball was not at 2022 levels and he could not land his breaking ball for a strike. It was a rough outing for the right-hander and he will look to bounce back with another assignment against the Phillies. He has thrown his curveball a ton this year, using it 46.6% of the time. When the pitch is commanded reasonably well it is effective, with a .185 average against, but he was spiking most of his curveballs last time out. He has struggled against the Phillies, with a 5.13 ERA in 33.1 innings.

Tuesday, September 19, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Cristopher Sanchez (16 GS, 87.1 IP, 23.6 K%, 4 BB%, 56.3 GB%, 3.40 ERA, 4.03 FIP)

Cristopher Sanchez has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies this season, coming out of nowhere to become a quality rotation piece for them. Sanchez has a sinker, changeup, slider pitch mix, with the changeup being his best pitch. He throws it 31.6% of the time, with hitters batting .161 against the pitch with a 40.2 whiff%. 45 of his 83 strikeouts have also come on the changeup. The Braves had huge problems against his changeup last time out, with Sanchez getting eight of his ten strikeouts on the pitch. While Sanchez is good at generating ground balls, home runs have been a problem for him when hitters are able to elevate. He has allowed 1.44 HR/9 this season, which is a very high mark. Sanchez has a 3.86 ERA in 9.1 innings against the Braves.

Spencer Strider (29 GS, 169 IP, 37.6 K%, 7.8 BB%, 33.9 GB%, 3.73 ERA, 2.83 FIP)

Spencer Strider has had a few blowup starts this season, with his start against the Cardinals being the most recent example, but whenever he has melted down, he has bounced back the next time out. He did just that in his last start against the Phillies where he went seven innings while allowing one run. Strider has dominated the Phillies in his career, posting a 1.56 ERA in 40.1 innings against them. He is also 7-0 and has struck-out 13.6 Phillies per nine innings. Strider’s 259 strikeouts in 169 innings is monstrous, and the 24 year old right hander seems like a lock to strikeout 300 batters one day. His slider gets comical whiff numbers, generating a 56.7 whiff% with a .150 batting average against. While the slider has better numbers, Strider’s fastball is the pitch that sets everything up. Its velocity and shape makes his heater one of the elite pitches in baseball. Batters are forced to sit on it to catch up and that makes the slider even better.

Wednesday, September 20, 12:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South, MLB Network)

Aaron Nola (30 GS, 181 IP, 24.9 K%, 6 BB%, 41.7 GB%, 4.62 ERA, 4.19 FIP)

In a year where he is set to hit free agency, Aaron Nola is having one of the worst years of his career. His September has only added insult to injury, with the right hander posting an 8.56 ERA in his three starts this month, failing to complete five innings in any of them, a rare occurrence for Nola, who is renowned for eating innings. Nola has had massive issues keeping the ball in the yard, allowing 31 homers this year, a career high. Nola’s arsenal is getting hit harder than last season across the board, and facing this Braves lineup is not something a struggling pitcher wants. His peripherals suggest his 4.62 ERA is harsh, but he has also taken a step back from previous seasons. In 32 starts and 200.2 innings, Nola has 3.41 ERA against the Braves and will look to continue that success on Wednesday.

Bryce Elder (29 GS, 167.1 IP, 18.2 K%, 7.8 BB%, 50.4 GB%, 3.50 ERA, 4.19 FIP)

After a sensational start to the season, Bryce Elder has come back down to earth since Memorial Day. In his last 15 starts, Elder has a 4.38 ERA, however he has been better lately with a 3.70 ERA in his last seven starts. He uses his sinker slider mix to fool batters and keep the ball on the ground, although his groundball rate has been steadily declining for months now. While his fastball and slider are his primary pitches, his changeup is an underrated part of his arsenal. He uses it nearly 20% of the time against lefties and it is crucial for him against them. Batters are hitting .179 against the changeup, with no home runs and only three extra base hits. If anything, he could stand to throw it more. Elder has only faced the Phillies once, where he went seven scoreless innings.

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