Braves at Phillies preview: Taijuan Walker, Spencer Strider headline NL East showdown

The Atlanta Braves make their way to Philadelphia for their first divisional matchup in Philly of 2023.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Philadelphia Phillies - Taijuan Walker takes the mound in Philadelphia
Los Angeles Dodgers v Philadelphia Phillies - Taijuan Walker takes the mound in Philadelphia / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

The Atlanta Braves make their way to Philadelphia for the first time this year in what is sure to be a great series, set to open Tuesday night.

So far this season, the Braves have once again fought to the top of the AL East with the Phillies in third behind Miami, 8 games back from Atlanta. Both teams enter this series with a six-game winning streak and an 8-2 record in their last 10 games.

Braves at Phillies, June 20: Spencer Strider vs Ranger Suarez

Spencer Strider’s last outing in Detroit on June 14 was a solid start but certainly not his best of the year. Over five innings pitched he allowed seven hits and five earned runs, giving up three home runs in the process. While Strider is certainly a top-five pitcher in the division, he has given up an average of three runs over his last three starts in June. 

The bad news?

The last time the Phillies saw Strider he allowed only two runs on two hits.

His opposition Ranger Suarez, however, is coming off his best start of the season. In Arizona on June 14, he fanned seven batters over seven innings of work while allowing two walks and no runs. Ranger has looked better every start since his return on May 13. Ranger’s last start against Atlanta was in September of last year where he got the win after six innings of work. 

In this game, look for the Phillies to heavily utilize lefties throughout the lineup to counter Strider’s right arm. Schwarber has been hot in June and his leadoff spot is sure to stay for at least the series opener.

Brave at Phillies, June 21: AJ Smith-Shawver vs Aaron Nola

AJ Smith-Shawver is a newcomer to the Atlanta rotation as they continue to make changes in order to patch their rotation while Max Fried remains on the IL. Smith-Shawver has three appearances so far in 2023, two of those being starts. In his last start against Colorado, he allowed six hits and three runs over 5-2/3 innings pitched. This righty has yet to solidify himself in the MLB, an opportune chance for the Phillies to get ahead early.

Aaron Nola has been rocky this season to say the least. His last start in Arizona was less than ideal. Over 6-2/3 innings pitched, Nola surrendered four runs on six hits while striking out nine against an Arizona squad that has been scorching hot all year. His last start in Philadelphia against Los Angeles was rough, as well; he allowed seven hits, six runs in 6-1/3 innings pitched.

If Nola wants to remain on this roster after this season, his start against Atlanta this week is critical, as his contract expires at the end of this season. If Nola’s struggles continue, his future in Philadelphia could come to an abrupt end in July before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. 

Braves at Phillies June 22: Bryce Elder vs Taijuan Walker

Bryce Elder may be another new name to some, but his 3.17 ERA in 2022 was enough to get him back in the rotation this year. So far, Elder is 5-1 with a 2.60 ERA, something that is sure to worry the Phillies. This righty struck out four over six innings in his last start, allowing one run on four hits. This game is the most worrying from a Phillies fan perspective, as fans have often seen the Phillies struggle against Braves pitching, and Elder’s recent success fuels that concern.

For the good guys, Taijuan Walker returns to the mound and Phillies fans couldn’t be happier with his last start in Oakland. Oakland, despite the drama surrounding the franchise, had entered the series against Philly feeling good after taking two of four from Tampa Bay. That was until Walker shut them down for eight innings on June 16. In that start, Walker’s final line after eight innings pitched was one run on seven hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Walker’s early-season struggles are sure to be behind him after his last start. The key in this game is Walker’s ability to throw first pitch strikes as well as the bats continuing to produce. 

This is a huge week for the Phillies as the Braves come to town before the Mets fly in for a three-game set at the end of the week. The Phillies remain sandwiched between Atlanta and New York in the NL East, and taking this Braves series will most certainly give the Fightins the recipe for a good stretch of baseball to end June.

Braves at Phillies pregame reading:

Taijuan Walker fires eight strong innings as Phils top A's | Reuters

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Taijuan Walker stays hot with eight-inning start vs. Athletics (

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