The Philadelphia Phillies could not have started off their NLDS against the 104-win Atlanta Braves any better on Saturday. The Phillies took Game 1 and handed the Braves their first shutout loss on their home turf in over a year. Vibes were high for this Phillies squad heading into Game 2 on Monday night.
The second game of the series started out well for the defending National League champs. They put up three earned runs against the Braves' second-best pitcher, Max Fried, and knocked him out of the game after just four innings. Meanwhile, Phillies' ace Zack Wheeler was dealing. He had not allowed a hit through 5 2/3 innings and had nine strikeouts through six innings.
In the end, things unraveled when Wheeler allowed a two-run home run to Travis d'Arnaud, and Jeff Hoffman gave up the lead when Austin Riley took him deep in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Phillies would not be able to overcome the one-run deficit, losing Game 2 in Atlanta.
Phillies still in good position heading home to Citizens Bank Park
Despite allowing the Braves to come from behind and steal the second game of the series, the Phillies are still in a good position to win the series and advance to the NLCS.
Many Phillies fans would likely have been happy if the club returned to Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1 if you asked them prior to the start of the NLDS. The main goal in Atlanta was to steal one game on the road.
In returning to Citizens Bank Park and the atmosphere that it provides in the postseason, the Phillies gain a huge home-field advantage heading into Games 3 and 4.
In last year's NLDS, they returned home after splitting the road games in Atlanta and proceeded to win both home matchups. If they can pull it off again, they'll advance to their second straight NLCS.
Pitching matchups favor Phillies
Another advantage that the Phillies have going for them is the Game 3 pitching matchup. Aaron Nola will take the hill for the Phillies, while the Braves will send Bryce Elder to the mound.
Elder faced the Phillies twice in the regular season. In June, he shut them down over seven innings and didn't allow a run. More recently, on Sept. 20, Elder didn't make it out of the fourth inning while allowing four earned runs. The pitching matchup should be a major advantage to the Phillies.
In the event the series does go five games and returns to Atlanta over the weekend, the Phillies will have Zack Wheeler back on regular rest. Having their ace get a second start, especially in a series and season deciding game, would be a huge boost should they need it.
This Phillies team is resilient. They've overcome quite a few obstacles this season. Bryce Harper missed the first two months, Trea Turner did not start hitting until August and they were missing a fifth starter until the early summer. The list goes on.
Nick Castellanos perhaps said it best after Monday night's loss:
"We thrive after we get punched in the face, man..."- Nick Castellanos
Monday night may have been a punch in the face, but this Phillies club is not looking to back down. They'll have a sold-out, boisterous crowd to greet them come first pitch on Wednesday. Look for the team to be reignited and play with unbridled passion in front of their home fans.