Totally biased Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves series preview
By Mike Lacy
Mike Minor. Image Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve reached the end. After almost six months of baseball, this weekend’s series against the Atlanta Braves will mark the end of the Philadelphia Phillies 2014 season.
With both the Phillies and the Braves eliminated from the playoffs, does that make this series meaningless?
Well, yes, kind of.
But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some intrigue when the teams square off this weekend.
What’s at stake for the Braves?
While you don’t win any awards for finishing in second, the penultimate spot in the National League East is up for grabs. Currently, the Braves are tied with the Mets at 77-82 with the Marlins just half a game behind them.
Would a second place finish make the Braves feel better about a season in which many pundits predicted them to be a playoff team? Considering the haughtiness that the Braves often display, it probably would.
One thing is for certain: A second place finish isn’t going to help general manager Frank Wren keep his job. The team fired him earlier this week.
What’s at stake for the Phillies?
Cole Hamels. Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
They’ve already sealed last place in the East, but with two more wins, the Phillies will top their win total from 2013. While that’s not much of an achievement, especially considering the roster additions they made last offseason, it would keep their record from getting worse for the third straight season.
Would an improved record be a sign that the team has bottomed out and brighter days are ahead? I somehow doubt that, but I could see them try to spin it that way.
As far as individual accomplishments go, with his start on Sunday, Cole Hamels will have a chance to top 200 innings pitched, and win his tenth game. While pitching wins aren’t the status symbol that they once were, it would be nice for Hamels to get himself into double digits.
Also, while the batting title appears to be out of reach, Ben Revere is battling his former teammate Denard Span for the National League lead in hits.
Mike Minor: Symbol of a disappointing season
Considering they will end up winning 15 fewer games than last year, it’s clear that the Braves had more than a couple of players turn in disappointing seasons. Perhaps the most unanticipated was starting pitcher Mike Minor.
Heading into the season, the Braves thought that Minor was developing into a young ace. Last season, he was 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA, and at 26 years of age, figured to only get better.
Minor may indeed turn out to be a front line pitcher, but his development hit a snag in 2014. He finished the year at 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA. In the process, his WAR dropped from 3.1 to 0.1
Jason Heyward: Superstar?
According to Baseball Reference, Jason Heyward is a very valuable player, as evidenced by his team-leading 6.3 WAR. But it’s worth wondering if he’s really that great.
Jason Heyward. Image Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The majority of Heyward’s value is apparently derived from his defense. While he’s undoubtedly a good defensive player, can a right fielder really be THAT valuable?
For a guy touted as a future superstar, Heyward’s offensive numbers just aren’t that impressive. After hitting 27 home runs in 2012, he has only hit 25 total in the past two years. And while his .349 on-base percentage is nice, it is far from an amazing number.
The good news for Heyward is that he’s still young. He just turned 25 years old, and won’t hit his prime for another couple of years.
The good news for the Phillies is that due to the Braves’ salary structure, they will have a tough time retaining him when he hits free agency after 2016. If Heyward does develop into a full-blown star, he’ll probably be available to the highest bidder.
Starting pitching preview
A look at the starting pitchers whom the Phillies will face this weekend
Ervin Santana. Image Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Early in the season, the Braves thought they made a shrewd signing when they picked up Santana late in the offseason. But since a very good month of April, most of Santana’s starts have ranged from mediocre to crappy.
He doesn’t appear to be finishing up well either. In four September starts, he’s given up 16 runs in only 22 innings.
After a poor 2013 season, Harang signed a one-year deal with the Braves hoping for a rebound. To his credit, he has rebounded somewhat: His 2014 season has been decidedly average.
He’s faced the Phillies three times this year, and has been all over the place. In one start he allowed eight runs in five innings. In another start, he gave up two runs in seven innings. And the last time he faced them, he shut them down for seven innings.
Alex Wood. Image Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
In his second full season in the majors, Wood has established himself as a rotation mainstay. His 2.78 ERA is the best number among the Braves’ starters.
Wood has had some success against the Phillies this season. He’s only allowed two earned runs over his two appearances.
Reason for optimism
As bad as this season has been for the Phillies, remember that expectations weren’t all that high for them. The Braves’ poor season was much more of a disappointment, and their motivation to play well appears to be greatly diminished. They’ve only won five games so far this month.
Reason for pessimism
The Phillies haven’t exactly been finishing strong either. They’re 3-7 in their last ten games.
I’ll be optimistic and say that the Phillies do find a way to win two of these games and improve upon last year’s record. Hamels will get them over the top and win his tenth game of the season in the finale on Sunday.