The Philadelphia Phillies open a three game series in Atlanta tonight against the host Braves.
Amazingly, we’re talking about the 18-14 Philadelphia Phillies, who carry a sort of momentum they have not had in years into the ATL. There are only four teams in all of baseball with more wins than the Fightin’ Phils. The Washington Nationals and New York Mets have 19, while the two teams from Chicago, the Cubs and White Sox, have already eclipsed the 20-win mark.
The Phils flew into Atlanta after winning two out of three from Miami over the weekend, and sit only two games behind the Mets for first place in the NL East. The Braves, meanwhile, have won just one game at home all season. No, you did not read that incorrectly. They have one win on their home field. The Phillies have the opportunity to help them continue on that embarrassing path beginning Tuesday night.
In order to beat Atlanta, the Phillies have to ensure the Atlanta offense continues its struggles. The Braves are dead last in basically every offensive category (with the Phillies not far ahead of them), and are the only team in baseball that have not reached double digits in team homers. They have hit…seven. In 29 games. That puts them on a pace of hitting one homer every four games.
The Phillies will have to find a way to slow down only a few Braves bats during their trip to the ATL, assuming there is no sudden breakout. The one that I have chosen as the player to contain this time around is veteran right fielder Nick Markakis.
Freddie Freeman is another option, and is always a dangerous hitter, but when closely examining the way that this season has begun in Atlanta, Markakis seems to be the right choice.
The 32-year old former 1st round MLB Amateur Draft pick is the only Braves hitter with a double-digit RBI total (20), and he leads the team in average (.294), while his .790 OPS mark is 2nd on the club.
Markakis signed in Atlanta before the 2015 season after spending eight years with the Baltimore Orioles. The lefty built a solid career in Baltimore, where he played more than 100 games in every one of his eight seasons, never hitting below .270 in an O’s uniform.
Markakis has an outstanding eye and is an excellent contact hitter. He has never had difficulty getting on base, and is an extremely difficult bat to miss. The Braves’ right fielder has only struck out over a hundred times during a season twice in his career.
Pitching to Markakis takes creativity. He is a very smart hitter who makes plenty of contact to all parts of the field. He does tend to allow the ball to get deep in order to drive pitches to left field.
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Teams still have to play him straight away, because he has the ability to hit the ball wherever he likes. Markakis does love the ball on the outer half, so if the Phillies want to have success with him, their best bet is to keep the ball in on his hands.
The career .291 hitter is not an easy out, no matter who is pitching. Although there seems to be a difference in his OPS between righties and lefties, the batting average holds up on both ends. He owns a career .282/.349/.333 slash line against lefties, and a .300/.419/.429 line versus right-handed pitching.
The Phillies would be more likely to turn to someone such as lefty Elvis Araujo late in a game if Markakis is up in a big spot. However, he is far from unable to produce in that situation.
If Adam Morgan, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez are able to be effective on the inner half, Markakis could have a long and difficult series this week. They will have to be careful with Markakis though, because mistakes that find a bulk of the plate will result in hits.
While the Braves do not normally produce many hits as a team, Markakis poses danger every time he steps into the box. Keep runners off base, because he has a knack for driving them home. Control his bat, and the Phillies go a long way towards controlling and winning this series.