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Phillies vs. Braves series preview: Top NL East teams collide in important June match-up

The Atlanta Braves are now the leaders in the National League East. After looking up at the Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) for most of this season, the Braves have won seven-straight games to take that spot from Philadelphia. Now the two collide in what is the start of an important series for the Phillies, but an important month that could determine the Phillies season.

Pitching Match-ups and Start Times:

Friday 6/14, 7:20 p.m.: Nick Pivetta (+117) vs. Max Fried (-127)
Saturday 6/15, 7:20 p.m.: Aaron Nola (-107) vs. Shawn Newcomb (-103)
Sunday 6/16, 1:20 p.m.: TBD vs. Mike Foltynewicz

At this point, the Phillies are going with the flow of its pitching staff. There has been inconsistent play out of the bullpen and the starting rotation continues to shuffle around.  This time, Jerad Eickhoff has shifted into the bullpen, leaving open another spot in the rotation.

Vince Velasquez has made the transition into the bullpen and at times it has looked great, other times, not so much. That’s to be expected from a pitcher that has spent very little time in the bullpen in his professional career. It’s not as simple as just going out, taking the ball and throwing it. There is certainly a different approach from starting pitching to being a reliever and Velasquez is trying to quickly adjust. However, the need for a starting pitcher again may have Velasquez back in the rotation.

I thought it was premature to strictly keep Velasquez as a reliever. It’s not like the Phillies could afford to just do away with a somewhat quality starting pitcher. The rotation already lacks depth to begin with. At any time Pivetta could falter, Zach Eflin could lose his new-found command, or Jerad Eickhoff could struggle after returning from a serious injury. Eickhoff was first, but any of those scenarios could happen next.

For now, the Phillies need to utilize any option they can to help out the rotation. To some, Velasquez may not be a good option for the Phils to turn to, but no doubt he is one of the better ones.

Of course, this could all just be a moot point. Gabe Kapler and the Phillies front office may be comfortable with keeping Velasquez in the pen, knowing that there will be starting pitching help on the way in July. But as the Phillies continue to lose its grip on the NL East lead, they can’t afford to continue to use guys like Cole Irvin or Eickhoff. Velasquez is a quality back-end starter and should be used as such.

What to Watch For:

This is as important as a series a team could have in June. The Braves have finally taken the top spot away from the Phillies in the NL East and have been playing their best baseball at the moment. As for the Phillies, this has been the toughest stretch so far this season.

Not only is any series with the Braves important, but this is also the beginning of a 26-game stretch against the NL East. The importance of these games cannot be stressed enough and to be honest, could determine how aggressive the Phillies are at the trade deadline. If the Phils are to continue to lose its grip on the NL East, how wise would it be to make big moves in July?

I may be putting too much stress on not only this series, but this part of the schedule against the division. But we talk about the coming moves in July as if the Phillies will become a contender for the National League, and while that may be true, the Phils need to make sure they are still in that position at that time.

Currently, it the Phillies are in position to make a blockbuster move this summer. However, with recent play and injuries piling up, that can change. The entire season might not hinge on these upcoming divisional games, but could determine the next moves for the Phillies this season.

Prop Bets (from Monkey Knife Fight):

Game 1:
Max Fried – o/u 4.5 strikeouts – Fried is just one of the many talented young pitchers for the Braves. Despite the Braves recent success, Fried himself has struggled in his last few outings. One thing he still does well is strikeout hitters. OVER
Nick Pivetta – o/u 4.5 strikeouts – Pivetta has been excellent since his return to the big leagues. Now it’s just waiting to see if this can last. I’m not willing to bet on that yet, but I am willing to bet on his strikeouts, as he has been able to put away hitters since his return. OVER
Total – o/u 9 – I expect baseballs to fly in Atlanta this weekend. Yes, Fried and Pivetta may stack up some strikeouts in this game, they are still prone to get hammered and if they don’t, the bullpens will. OVER

DFS Play: Scott Kingery

Lefty. Hot streak. Home runs. There is plenty of reasons to insert Kingery into your DFS lineup. Also, in season-long leagues if he is available, pick him up immediately

Other Notes:

The Phillies received the best possible news on the elbow of Seranthony Dominguez as he will not need surgery.

It’s great news for the Phillies as the bullpen cannot afford to lose one of its best arms for the season. Now the question is how much the Phillies want to spend on the pen. If Dominguez was for sure out this season, then the Phillies may have been more willing to spend top dollar on a reliever this summer. But with Dominguez still available this season and the eventual return of David Robertson, it may not be necessary.

That’s not to say that the Phillies don’t need to bring in any bullpen help. It’s that instead of spending a big investment on Brad Hand, instead the Phillies can get a cheaper option like Jake Diekman.

Now the biggest advantage of that is the ability to spend all resources on acquiring a starting pitcher. Best case scenario: The Phillies bullpen gets healthy and brings in a cheap reliever to add depth and then add a top starting pitcher. Bullpen gets stabilized and the Phillies suddenly have a solid rotation that they can use, especially in the playoffs.

You can follow Jon Jansen on Twitter (@jjansen34) and e-mail him at [email protected].

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