Phillies

What's been going on with the Braves since they last faced the Phillies?

Phillies

When lefty Max Fried delivers the first pitch Friday night in Atlanta, 2½ months will have passed since the Phillies and Braves last met. The Phillies swept the Braves at home March 28-31, outscoring them 23-11 during the best week the Phils' offense has had all year.

It didn't take long for the Braves to recover from that opening series. After beginning 0-3, they won seven of the next eight. The first week of May, the Braves went to Dodger Stadium and were swept, just like the Phillies would be a few weeks later. Atlanta fell to 18-20 on that West Coast trip but has gone 21-9 since.

As a result, the Braves have sole possession of first place for the first time all season entering this weekend’s important three-game set. 

The Phillies and Braves have had markedly different schedules to this point. The Phils have played 14 games already against the Nationals and Mets. The Braves have played just six. Half of Atlanta's 18 divisional games so far this season have come against the Marlins and the Braves have beaten them down, going 8-1.

Almost half of a season has played out since that first Phillies-Braves series. Let's run through the key developments with Atlanta since then:

Acuna already elite

Asked earlier this season about teammate Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman said Acuna has a chance to be as good as Mike Trout. Lofty praise, but it's hard to argue with what Acuna has already accomplished.

After hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs as a 20-year-old rookie last season, Acuna is hitting .283/.365/.491 with 15 homers this season. He's on pace for 36 home runs and 22 steals and is the most dangerous leadoff man in the NL right now.

 

The Phillies have not yet felt the full impact of Acuna. He's played 16 games against them and never homered, hitting just .259 with a .688 OPS. 

The Phils are dabbling with the idea of using an opener in one of the games this weekend, but it's more challenging against the Braves than it was against a team as left-handed as the Dodgers. The top of the Braves' order goes Acuna (righty), Dansby Swanson (righty), Freeman (lefty), Josh Donaldson (righty), Nick Markakis (lefty).

Braves' evolving rotation

The Phillies opened the season with a starting pitching edge on the Braves, who had Mike Foltynewicz and a bunch of question marks. 

But the Braves' rotation has actually been better to this point. The rotation ERAs are both between 4.30 and 4.40 but Atlanta has a better WHIP, an opponents' batting average nine points lower and 22 fewer home runs allowed.

Surprisingly, the Braves' ace has been 21-year-old Mike Soroka, who is 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA in 70⅓ innings. Julio Teheran, who has alternated good and bad seasons the last six years, has had a good one so far, posting a 3.03 ERA in 14 starts. And Fried has been very impressive at times with swing-and-miss stuff. The Phillies will face him Friday night.

Foltynewicz has been the worst of the bunch, with a 6.02 ERA. He's too talented to falter much longer. And then there's the newly-signed Dallas Keuchel, who should be ready in a few weeks.

Braves' bullpen

Nobody has really seized the closer's role in Atlanta. Former closer Arodys Vizcaino suffered a season-ending injury and was traded along with Jesse Biddle to Seattle for Anthony Swarzak, who has really helped the Braves as a setup man.

Lefty A.J. Minter got the first crack at saves but struggled and was sent to the minors before being recalled this week.

Lately, save opportunities have gone to right-hander Luke Jackson, who has a 3.27 ERA with nine saves and 49 strikeouts in 33 innings but has also blown five saves.

Atlanta's late-inning formula includes Jackson, Swarzak and likely Minter.

Freddie being Freddie

Is there a more consistent hitter in the NL than Freeman? He's hitting .309/.401/.588, which you can pretty much pencil him in for at season's end. The guy does not have the peaks and valleys of most power hitters, instead hitting .300 seemingly every week with a few extra-base hits.

When the Phillies faced the Braves the first week of the season, they shifted against Freeman every time with the bases empty and he beat the shift more than once. He's just too good with the bat to defend like teams defend Carlos Santana or Bryce Harper. 

After that series, Gabe Kapler said the Phillies had some things to rethink with Freeman. We'll see this weekend what that means.

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