Phillies Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

mattman3rd
May 18, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker (L) talks with home plate umpire Paul Nauert (39) on a replay challenge against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker (L) talks with home plate umpire Paul Nauert (39) on a replay challenge against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadephia Phillies host the Atlanta Braves for a weekend series at Citizens Bank Park.

For two teams who were expected to battle for the basement in the National League East Division in 2016, things could not have turned out more differently for the Braves and Phillies.

The Phils have become baseball’s biggest positive surprise story of the year. After an 0-4 start, the club has gone 24-13 and moved into 2nd place, just one game behind the first place Washington Nationals.

Meanwhile, the Braves have indeed sunk to the bottom. Atlanta lost their first nine games and have never recovered. Their 10-30 mark is tied with the American League’s Minnesota Twins as the worst record in baseball.

Atlanta won four straight at one point in mid-May. That is the only time over this 2016 season’s first 6 1/2 weeks that they have been able to win even back-to-back games.

That record has already cost the Braves their manager, as Fredi Gonzalez was canned just three days ago. Gonzalez had been the Atlanta skipper since 2011, guiding the club to 96 victories and an NL East crown just three years ago.

Gonzalez was replaced in the dugout by Brian Snitker on an interim basis. The 60-year old Snitker has served in the Atlanta organization for the last 34 years in a series of roles, including as the big league bullpen coach all the way back in the 1988-90 seasons.

The Phils and Braves met just 10 days ago down at Turner Field in Atlanta, with the Phillies taking two out of three games, with the series decided by a Cameron Rupp two-out, three-run 10th inning double in the finale.

These are the two lowest-scoring teams in all of baseball, so we shouldn’t expect to see the scoreboard lit up down in South Philly.

And while the Phils’ 31 homers leave them ranked 29th of MLB’s 30 teams, the Braves have fewer than half that number, holding up the bottom of that power ranking with just 15 longballs.

The Braves offense, such as it is, is led by a trio of hitters. First baseman Freddie Freeman is still just 26 years of age. Freeman is hitting for a .267/.363/.445 slash line with six homers and 11 RBI, and leads the club with 17 runs scored.

Right fielder Nick Markakis is second on the team with 14 runs scored, and leads the Braves with 22 RBI. Rookie center fielder Mallex Smith is second with both three homers and 14 RBI, has scored 13 runs, and leads the club with a half-dozen stolen bases.

On the rare occasions that Snitker gets to use his Closer to finish out a game with a lead, he has a good one to call upon. 25-year old Arodys Vizcaino has a 1.53 ERA and 1.189 WHIP with four Saves. He has allowed just 14 hits in 17.2 innings with a 24/7 K:BB ratio.

The rest of the Braves bullpen cast is made up of underwhelming veterans in righties Alexi Ogando, Jason Grilli, and Bud Norris and left-hander Eric O’Flaherty.

The Phillies need to take advantage of their division rivals while they are down. While there are still 13 games remaining between the two clubs, this will be the last meeting between the two until the Fourth of July, when they will reconvene here in Philly.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY: Aaron Nola (3-2, 2.89 ERA) vs Matt Wisler (1-3, 3.14 ERA): this is a premium matchup between two of the best young starting pitchers in baseball. The 23-year old Wisler is a right-hander who is already Atlanta’s #2 starter. A 7th round pick of the Padres in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, he came to the Braves last April as the key piece in the Craig Kimbrel trade. Wisler has five Quality Starts this season, including his last three straight outings. In those three he allowed just 17 hits over his last 23.1 innings with a 13/4 K:BB ratio. He allowed three earned runs on eight hits to the Phils in a 3-1 loss in Atlanta just 10 days ago. Nola has been arguably the Phillies most consistently good starting pitcher, and has gone seven innings in six of his eight outings. He did not face the Braves in Atlanta during the two team’s recent series.

SATURDAY: Adam Morgan (1-1, 6.41 ERA) vs Williams Perez (1-1, 4.78 ERA): as good as the Friday pitching matchup is, this one is potentially bad. However, Saturday is forecast to be a nearly complete weather wipeout, with rain all day and night. If this were a 7:05pm start time, they might get it in. But it is scheduled for 3:05pm, so it’s anyone’s guess how all factors might come in to play. If played, or these two face off the following day, this is a big outing for Morgan, who may be approaching last chance status for now. The Phillies have a number of AAA arms who look close to ready to contribute. Meanwhile, the only lefty in the Phils’ rotation is struggling, having been blown out by Cincinnati just five days ago. He allowed seven earned on eight hits in that start, which lasted just 3.2 innings. Just one of his four starts since being promoted at the end of April has been a strong effort. A 25-year old rookie righty, Perez is no great shakes himself. But he did overpower the Phillies with an 8-inning, 2-hit victory during the series in Atlanta.

SUNDAY: Jerad Eickhoff (1-6, 4.44 ERA) vs Casey Kelly (0-0, 3.00 ERA): this call of Kelly going for the Braves is a complete educated guess on my part. The start is listed to the old ‘TBD’ (to be determined) as the series opens. It would be rookie Aaron Blair‘s turn, but he was demoted earlier this week. Kelly has pitched well at AAA, and is generally considered next in line for a promotion. He pitched well in his last start at Gwinnett on Monday, and so logic seems to have him on a pace for this outing. Depending on how they are used out of the bullpen, the Braves could also choose to give a spot start to either veteran righty Bud Norris or 23-year old righty John Gant. If it is Kelly, it would be his first start in a Braves’ uniform since coming from the Padres in trade back in December. At Gwinnett, Kelly is 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA and has allowed just 22 hits over 37.2 innings. Eickhoff has not pitched nearly as poorly as his 1-6 record might indicate, but he has been inconsistent enough that, with this feeble Phillies offense, he leaves himself and the team open to getting beaten.

KEYS TO PHILLIES VICTORY

GET TO THE BULLPENS: the simple fact is that the Phillies bullpen has produced tremendously this season, and is a major factor in their success in the standings. In particular the late innings combination of David Hernandez, Hector Neris, and Jeanmar Gomez has been a revelation. Since being promoted, veteran Andrew Bailey has also largely pitched well. Especially if the Phillies can find a way to work Wisler in tonight’s opener, get his pitch count up, and get him out after no more than six innings, they should have a reasonable shot at not only winning this series, but sweeping it.

PLUG IN SOME POWER: Citizens Bank Park is a known home run haven. The Phillies need to take these Braves pitchers out of the park this weekend, and finally put more than 3-4 average runs on the board over a full series. Getting Maikel Franco fully untracked would be one source of such power. Having Ryan Howard come through against a trio of right-handed pitchers would be another. But having others step up, perhaps rookie Tommy Joseph or Tyler Goeddel, each of whom hit their first big league home runs this past week, would be huge.

ENTERTAIN THE CROWD: the Phillies are just a game out of first place in a surprising feel-good season. They are wrapping up a 9-game homestand this weekend, but after three on the road early next week, the club will return home again for another 10-game homestand. With the summer months approaching, kids getting out of school soon, now is the time to start showing these home crowds that they are for real. Scoring more runs, playing more aggressively on the bases, and continuing to win should start to result in increased home attendance at Citizens Bank Park, a beautiful facility from which fans have stayed away in droves over the last 2-3 seasons.

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Friday, May 20thvs. Atlanta Braves7:05 PM EDTCSN TV94 WIP FM radio
Saturday, May 21stvs. Atlanta Braves3:05 PM EDTCSN TV94 WIP FM radio
Sunday, May 22ndvs. Atlanta Braves1:35 PM EDTCSN TV94 WIP FM radio

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE forecast for Citizens Bank Park

Tonight

Increasing clouds, with a low around 54. South wind around 6 mph becoming calm after midnight.

Saturday

Rain, mainly after 9am. High near 63. Light northeast wind becoming east 5 to 10 mph in the morning. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Saturday Night

Rain, mainly before 9pm. Low around 51. Northeast wind 6 to 8 mph becoming north after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Sunday

A chance of rain before 9am, then a chance of showers after 9am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 68. North wind around 6 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.


INJURIES / DISABLED LISTS

Atlanta Braves

DatePlayerStatus
5/10Jim Johnson, PRight groin strain (on 15-day DL)
4/11Dan Winkler, PFractured right elbow (on 15-day DL)
4/3Jesse Biddle, PRecovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)
4/3Andrew McKirahan, PTorn left elbow ligament (on 60-day DL)
4/3Shae Simmons, PRecovery from right elbow surgery (on 15-day DL)
3/25Manny Bañuelos, PRecovery from bone spur surgery (on 15-day DL)
2/20Paco Rodríguez, PRecovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)

Philadelphia Phillies

DatePlayerStatus
4/29Dalier Hinojosa, PRight hand contusion (on 15-day DL)
4/24Charlie Morton, PTorn left hamstring – out for season (on 15-day DL)
4/2Aaron Altherr, LFTorn tendon in left wrist (on 60-day DL)
4/2Matt Harrison, PLower back inflammation (on 60-day DL)
4/2Mario Hollands, PRecovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)
3/25Cody Asche, LFStrained right oblique (on 15-day DL)

Next: Phillies Trade Value Update

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