Is the balance of power in the NL East shifting?

The Phillies' barrage of injuries to Andrew McCutchen and seven key relievers, combined with the Braves' strong recent play and agreement last week with free-agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel, may give the Braves an equal or better chance to win a division that, so far this season, has been handled by the Phils.

Entering Monday night, the Phillies had spent 74 of the season's 75 days in first place, losing their lead for only one night to the Mets.

The Braves had not led the division for even a minute until Monday night, when they tied the Phillies. The teams have not met since the first three games of the season — which the Phillies swept — but face off June 14-16 in Atlanta.

Winning the division carries obvious importance. The Phillies did not spend $403 million on Bryce Harper, McCutchen and David Robertson, plus trade for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura, just to play in a one-game, do-or-die, wild-card playoff.

But the road to winning the NL East will be tough for the Phillies without their leadoff man, without most of their bullpen and without any guarantees in the starting rotation.

Pitching issues

The starting staff appeared to be one area the Phillies were much better than the Braves. But Aaron Nola has not been the same. He carries a 4.58 ERA into his next start.

Jake Arrieta has, again, underwhelmed. He's allowed four runs or more in six of his last nine starts. Arrieta has a 4.07 ERA in 44 starts with the Phillies and there is no aspect of his game other than groundball rate that has graded out above average these last two seasons.

 

Right now, there is no Phillies pitcher you can look at as a lock on a given night, or as a stopper during a losing streak. It's an issue and one they know they must rectify before July 31.

Monday night was another example that starting pitching is a necessary addition for this team. The D-backs homered eight times, including five off Jerad Eickhoff, who has been taken deep an unfathomable 16 times in his last 27 innings.

Combine that with the surprising emergence of Braves starting pitcher Mike Soroka (1.38 ERA in 65 innings) and the rotation gap between these teams has diminished.

Braves' offense better?

Offensively, the Braves have been better than the Phillies in almost every way. They've scored 12 more runs, hit 14 points higher, hit 13 more home runs and have an OPS edge of 31 points.

The Phillies have allowed 27 more home runs than they've hit. They are one of only three teams in the majors to be outhomered but over .500 (Rockies, Indians). It is a major concern that has been masked by the Phils' overall solid play to this point. But in such a home run-crazed game, can a team truly contend without matching its opponent's power? The Phillies are on pace to allow 265 home runs. The major-league record is 258.

Atlanta's best hitter, Freddie Freeman, is just more solid and consistent than the Phillies' best hitter, Bryce Harper. Atlanta's second-best hitter, Ronald Acuña Jr., is a better all-around player than anyone the Phillies have. Those sentences may be hard for Phillies fans to read but they're the truth, especially in 2019. 

There are 63 major-leaguers who have more home runs than Harper and 34 major-leaguers who have more home runs than Rhys Hoskins, who leads the Phils.

Bullpens

The back-end of the Braves' bullpen is still a question mark. Luke Jackson is a new and unproven closer and the Braves have shuffled through various setup men. But given all of the Phillies' bullpen injuries, it's hard to say they're better off than the Braves in relief moving forward.

These final 100 games will not be played on paper, but for the Phillies to remain in first place they're going to need to take advantage of these 16 remaining meetings with the Braves. The Braves have, somehow, played only five of their first 66 games against the Phillies and Nationals.

It's going to be a tight and exciting race the rest of the way. With seven of the remaining head-to-head matchups coming between Sept. 9 and Sept. 19, it will likely come down to the wire. Perhaps by then, the Phillies' lineup will have clicked 1 through 8 in a way we saw only during the season's first week.

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