Rob Thomson
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies and Braves won't cross paths again until July 5th. After the opening weekend, the Phillies are acutely aware of the challenges posed by the formidable Atlanta roster and recognize the need for improvement in their gameplay. 
 
True, the Phillies have knocked the Braves out in the postseason the previous two seasons, but expectations are different this year for the Phillies, and clinching the NL East pennant is part of the mission. Atlanta's staggering .961 OPS against Philadelphia pitching over the weekend underscores the potency of their offense, even against seasoned aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. 
 
Luis Ortiz's placement on the injured list due to a sprained ankle prompted the Phillies to enlist Nick Nelson as the long man in the bullpen. With Connor Brogdon's shaky performances in the initial series, the team may contemplate his role, particularly considering Orion Kerkering's possible return by April 9th. Nonetheless, the Phillies require Brogdon to demonstrate consistency in throwing strikes, especially in low-pressure situations. 
 
José Alvarado experienced a resurgence on Sunday, highlighting his trademark 96 mph cutter. While last season saw his cutter average at 93 mph, it failed to consistently produce the impact witnessed in 2022 when its velocity consistently hovered around 95 mph—a mark he not only reached but exceeded on Sunday. 
 
Bryce Harper incurred a cut on his left pointer finger following a tumble into the camera well along the first base line on Saturday. Fortunately, the cut was the lone outcome from a fall that could have been significantly worse, prompting a collective sigh of relief. Although Harper sat out Sunday's game as a precaution, he's slated to return to action on Monday as the Phillies kick off their series against Cincinnati at home.

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