The Phillies have a tougher opponent ahead in the division-rival Braves.
As Edmundo Sosa caught the final Wild Card Series out Saturday night, Philadelphia Phillies fans rejoiced about the team’s first postseason series win since 2010. Now, for the first time since the 1993 National League Championship Series, the Phillies and Atlanta Braves will square off in a postseason series beginning this Tuesday.
This Phillies’ next obstacle won’t be a light one. The Braves won 101 games this season, en route to their fifth consecutive National League East title. After a late-season comeback to take the division from the New York Mets, the Braves clinched the No. 2 seed and had a first-round bye as the Phillies played the Cardinals. They are the reigning World Series champions and have one of the most complete rosters in the entire league.
Despite losing 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman in free agency to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves had an incredible season — hitting the second-most home runs and posting the fifth-lowest ERA in MLB. From the heart of the lineup to their bullpen, there are very few weaknesses you will find about them.
Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Matt Olson highlight Atlanta’s offense. Each is one of the best at their respective positions. Riley hit 38 home runs and accumulated a .878 OPS over the year. He has become one of the most dynamic MLB superstars. Even Dansby Swanson has become an offensive force in recent seasons, not to mention his superb defense at shortstop.
The Phillies played to an 8-11 record when facing the Braves in the 2022 regular season. Interim manager Rob Thomson’s squad was an underdog to the St. Louis Cardinals and will be an even bigger underdog in the NLDS.
Philadelphia should expect Max Fried to pitch in Game 1, Kyle Wright in Game 2, and former Phillie Charlie Morton in Game 3 — not accounting for the potential return of rookie Spencer Strider, who was dealing before his recent trip to the injured list. Fried compiled a 2.48 ERA in 30 starts, making his first All-Star team and winning 14 games. Meanwhile, Wright’s emergence has been huge for Atlanta, as he won an MLB-leading 21 games while pitching to a 3.19 ERA in 180 1/3 innings.
When comparing the Phillies and Braves, the offense and starting rotation do not contain too many statistical differences. Philadelphia’s offense and rotation are among the best. However, when it comes to the bullpen, there is a troubling contrast between them.
Kenley Jansen had a successful first season with the Braves, recording an NL-leading 41 saves. Raisel Iglesias, a trade deadline acquisition that was merely an afterthought, has pitched extraordinarily with his new team. He has only allowed one earned run in the 26 1/3 innings he has thrown as a Brave — yes, one — which comes out to a 0.34 ERA.
And if that is not impressive enough, Atlanta has four other middle relief pitchers who have pitched at least 50 innings and have an ERA under 3.00. Considering the Phillies have the worst regular season bullpen ERA of all initial 12 postseason teams, this could be a problem in the late innings of this series.
The Cardinals are a very good team, but the Braves are just on a different level. Some would argue that they are the best team in Major League Baseball. No one will expect the Phillies to win this series, but they just defied all odds by sweeping St. Louis.
If the Phillies can steal one in Atlanta in the first two games, it would put them in a fantastic position. It is a tall, yet doable task. The hope is that the Fightin’ Phils will wreak some havoc at Truist Park in Games 1 and 2.