Huge weekend for Phillies down in Atlanta; NL East lead on the line

Phillies travel to Atlanta for big series with Braves
The Phillies head to Atlanta to open a crucial three-game set with the division-leading Braves on Friday at SunTrust Park. The Braves enter the weekend with sole possession of the top spot with a 1 1/2 game lead.

The Phillies are coming off a series loss at home to the Diamondbacks, including a woeful offensive performance on Wednesday night in a 2-0 loss that negated an outstanding effort from starter Zach Eflin. The club is 5-5 over its last ten games.

"I think we have better baseball in us than this recent stretch of games," manager Gabe Kapler said following Wednesday's loss. "We have more consistent baseball in us than this recent stretch of games. We have to play better in order to beat teams like the Braves and the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. These are very good teams."

Nick Pivetta will start the series opener for the Phils, aiming to build off his first career complete game victory last week over Cincinnati. He's been outstanding since rejoining the rotation after a stint at Triple-A, allowing just four runs in 20 innings over his previous three starts. He's also walked just two over that span while collecting 21 strikeouts.

“He’s just on the attack more,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said after Pivetta's last start. “He’s working with the same stuff. He’s just doing a great job of getting ahead of hitters and being able to put them away when he gets ahead. Early in the season, I feel like when he did get to two-strike counts he wasn’t executing down in the zone, he was leaving balls up a lot. Now when he gets two strikes, almost every breaking ball is to the bottom of the zone or under it. That’s a huge difference for him, being able to get ahead and put hitters away.”

A major concern for the Phils entering the weekend is the offense. The club is hitting just .228 over the last two weeks, the fourth-worst mark in baseball. Compounding matters, the club has the third-worst walk percentage during that same stretch at 6.3-percent. For the year, the offense ranks 15th in Major League Baseball in runs scored, 20th in homers, and 18th in wOBA.

"I think we're going to hit home runs," Kapler said Wednesday. "I guess if you just look at a third of the season, would I have expected that's where we'd rank? Probably not. Do I expect us to rank there at the end of the season? I don't. I think we have power up and down the lineup. We have guys who have a history of hitting home runs. I expect that trend to continue."

The Phillies have just three hitters over the past two weeks hitting at least .250 - Rhys Hoskins (.250), Scott Kingery (.295), and Realmuto (.333). Cesar Hernandez who has handled leadoff duties is hitting just .109 over that span.

It's possible Kingery hits in the leadoff spot tonight in the opener.

"That's something we are looking to explore," Kapler said earlier this week.

Left-hander Max Fried will start the opener for the Braves. He has a 3.75 ERA on the season but has struggled as of late, pitching to a 5.61 ERA over his last seven outings with a 1.63 WHIP.

Roster Addition
The Phillies on Thursday acquired infielder Brad Miller from the Yankees for cash considerations. The 29-year-old played in 13 games with the Indians this year, hitting .250 in 40 plate appearances. He had 10 homers while playing with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate while hitting .294 in 41 games. At this point, he'll provide depth off the bench.
_____________________________________________
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

No comments: