The MLB trade deadline is looming, the Phillies are 5.5 games back in the National League East, and the division leader Atlanta Braves are coming to town this weekend. This is, at the moment, the biggest series of the season.
For the Phillies (54-48, 3rd in NL East), there is an opportunity to gain even more ground in the division standings after a pair of successful series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers. The Phils have had problems all season long playing against some of the top competition in Major League Baseball. Can the Phillies elevate their game to get back into the divisional race? Let’s look into that right now!
Pitching Match-ups and Start Times:
Friday 7/26, 7:05 p.m.: Mike Soroka (+111) vs. Jake Arrieta (-131)
Saturday 7/27, 7:05 p.m.: Max Fried vs. Zach Eflin
Sunday 7/28, 1:05 p.m.: Aaron Nola vs. Kevin Gausman
There are some pitchers in the bullpen and starting pitchers that are going to be fighting for their jobs as the trade deadline draws closer. The Phillies have been linked to some of the top pitching targets on the market. There is a good chance they land one of them, maybe more. Those in the bullpen and especially the back-end of the rotation, are not guaranteed a spot because of performances in series against opponents like the Braves.
While it was a good sign to see the Phillies pitching staff, for the most part, shut down the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the inability to limit better lineups has been a major concern. Just look at the last series against the Los Angeles Dodgers: run totals in those four games were 16, 8, 7, and 6. That’s not good at all.
Now the offense, at times, hasn’t done its part. There have been too many times where the Phillies have been shut down and that can’t keep happening. However, the offense has also shown that it can elevate itself to compete with the top teams in the National League. Again, the best example of that is the Dodgers series. There were two games where the lineup logged only two runs each, but the other two games they were able to plate nine and seven runs.
As for a starting pitcher that may be fighting to keep his spot, that could be Zach Eflin. I fully understand how crazy that sounds, especially when you consider that just a month ago Eflin’s ERA was a 2.83. That number has now jumped up to a 4.25 ERA and it’s been a struggle in his past five starts. And while Eflin is trending in the wrong direction, Vince Velasquez has continued to look better in his last three starts. I fully expect Eflin to stay in the rotation if the Phillies were to acquire another starting pitcher, but it is certainly a volatile situation if he continues this downward spiral.
What to Watch For:
This series against the Braves is the most important series of the season thus far. If the Phillies want to have a chance to win the division, they need to win this series. With the stakes being higher than they’ve been all season, this is certainly a high-pressure situation. So, who will step up and lead the charge?
Of course, the first person to turn to is Bryce Harper. The $330 million man has at times not looked the part, but other times, like the Dodgers series, looked like he was worth every penny. Can Harper again, against a really good Braves team, lead the Phillies lineup and produce in big situations?
Next is Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins has no doubt been a really good player for the Phillies since he has made his big league debut. The problem is that the Phillies have not been in many playoff races since Hoskins has joined the club. This is time for Hoskins to prove that he really is a great player in this league. There will be many more chances, hopefully, for Hoskins to prove himself in these kinds of high-pressure games, but this series would be the best time to really show it.
And we can’t forget about Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. Both have been somewhat disappointing at the dish. That disappointment cannot continue for the Phillies if they are to make a playoff run. Segura and Realmuto are too talented and too important to this Phillies lineup to keep playing below-expectations.
Prop Bets for Game 1 (from Monkey Knife Fight):
Mike Soroka – o/u 5.5 strikeouts – Soroka had six strikeouts in 4.2 innings in his last outing against the Phils. Soroka isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but he has plus stuff going against a lineup prone to the strikeout. OVER
Jake Arrieta – o/u 4.5 strikeouts – If Arrieta is going to have success against the Braves he will need to induce a lot of groundballs and pitch to contact. Don’t think he will strike out many and has a good chance to be run out early in this one. UNDER
Total – o/u 9.5 – This should be a close series. The only worry is that the Phillies pitching gets torched by a really good Braves lineup. I’d rather take my chances with the under though. UNDER
Bryce Harper. Harper has cooled off a bit, but he is coming into this series fresh. Two off days, DH in game one against Detroit and sat the next day. Fresh legs and has a good chance to homer in this game.
Sean Brace, Greg Hall and I got together for another edition of Phillies in a Flash.
Everything you need to know heading into this Braves series can be found below. Recap of the Detroit game, what needs to happen in the Braves series and more!
You can follow Jon Jansen on Twitter (@jjansen34) and e-mail him at [email protected].
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