ATLANTA – They’re not going to blow this thing, are they?
This is the question Phillies fans are asking themselves after their team has come into Atlanta and gotten spanked by the Braves two nights in a row.
One night after rallying to beat the Phillies’ best reliever, the Braves beat one of the team’s best starters Saturday night. Aaron Nola battled his way through seven innings but came away with a 4-3 loss. Nola didn’t get enough support from the bats, and he had difficulty containing Ronald Acuna Jr., who followed up a game-changing two-run homer in the eighth inning Friday night with another two-run homer and a two-run double as his team ran out to a 4-0 lead after four innings.
The Phils chipped away but couldn’t make it all the way back. Acuna made a diving catch in right field with the bases loaded to take away a hit from Bryce Harper to end the top of the fifth.
“That was a big play in the game,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He was the player of the game, no doubt. Four RBIs and a catch that probably saved the game.”
The loss hurt in the wild-card standings.
The Phillies are locked in a three-team battle with San Diego and Milwaukee for the final two National League wild-card playoff spots. Both of those teams won Saturday. The Phils lead over San Diego is a half-game. The lead over Milwaukee is two games.
The Phillies hold tiebreakers over both the Padres and Brewers, but they don’t want to rely on that to break their 10-year postseason drought. They want to go in through the front door, but to do that they’ll need to start racking up some wins. The Phils have 17 games left – a number that should remind them that no lead is safe (see: 2007) – and five of them are against the Braves, who have a lot to play for as they try to chase down the Mets for the NL East division title.
“We’ve got a tough schedule but we’ve got to battle through it,” Thomson said. “I love the fight the club showed tonight. We kept grinding away. Harper hit the ball hard three times.
“We’ve got to win ball games and if we play like we did tonight, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
The Phils will try to salvage one game in this series Sunday afternoon, but it won’t be easy. The Braves will send rookie sensation Spencer Strider to the mound. He has beaten the Phils three times in as many starts this season and allowed just two runs while striking out 24 in 15 1/3 innings.
“Anytime you get into this situation and this style of baseball late in the year, there's teams fighting for those spots, and it's always tough,” Harper said. “We have a great group in here that's going to fight tomorrow. We're going to come out tomorrow and have a great game.”
Rhys Hoskins, who missed the last three games with a bruised right hand, could be back Sunday.
Bailey Falter will pitch for the Phillies. The team has been victorious in his last six starts. The Phils need that pattern to continue.
The Braves will be without second baseman Ozzie Albies on Sunday. One game after coming back from missing 81 games with a broken foot, he broke his right pinkie diving into second base.
Before leaving the game, Albies drew a four-pitch walk from Nola in the bottom of the third inning. Two batters later, Acuna hit a first-pitch fastball from Nola into the right field seats to give the Braves a 2-0 lead.
Nola allowed singles to William Contreras and Albies to open the bottom of the fourth and both scored when Acuna stroked a first-pitch curveball for a double.
Nola did not allow a run after the fourth, but the damage was done. Atlanta starter Jake Odorizzi's fastball averaged just 92 mph, but the Phils could only score one run against him in his 4 2/3 innings.
“Those two innings were the difference,” Nola said. “I had the leadoff guy on base both times. Those two innings, I hurt myself.”
The Braves are 8-6 against the Phillies this season. It’s possible that the two teams will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. After rallying to beat Seranthony Dominguez on Friday night and Nola on Saturday night, the Braves are teeming with confidence against the Phils.
“It's a great team over there,” Harper said. “It's a team we could possibly face in the first round. So we just have to flush it and get ready for tomorrow. We have Strider. Hopefully get the win tomorrow and get into an off day Monday.”