freddie freeman

What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

ATLANTA — Taking two of three from the Atlanta Braves on the road usually leaves a team with a spring in its step as it heads to the airport to get out of town.

But there was a palpable disappointment in the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park late Thursday afternoon. Time is running out for these Phillies. Winning series is no longer good enough. They need sweeps and they failed to get one with ace Aaron Nola on the mound Thursday. A damaging 5-4 loss to the Braves left the Phillies four games back in the NL wild-card race with just 11 games remaining.

Bryce Harper said all the right things after the loss. He mentioned how the Phillies scratched and clawed during the three games in Atlanta, mentioned how they need to do that again over the weekend in Cleveland, mentioned how they still have a chance.

But a few lockers down, J.T. Realmuto’s silence was telling. He politely declined to speak to reporters.

Manager Gabe Kapler does not have the luxury of declining interviews. He found himself under the microscope for a fifth-inning decision in which he let Nola pitch to Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman in a tie game with two men on base and first base open. There was one out. A walk would have set up a potential double play.

Prior to the at-bat, Freeman was 0 for 6 with five walks in the series. This situation seemed to call for another walk, intentional or unintentional, but Nola went right at Freeman with a first-pitch fastball and the National League’s co-leader in RBIs drove in his 118th and 119th runs of the season with a hit to right to give the Braves a lead that they never relinquished.

Earlier in the game, Nola gave up a two-run homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. He also allowed a solo homer to rookie Austin Riley in the sixth as the Braves built a 5-3 lead.

The Phils pecked away at the lead with a run in the eighth, but the comeback fell short.

Nola is winless in his last six starts and has been roughed up in three of his last four. He was accountable for his struggles and said he’s simply given up too many runs. He disputed the notion that Freeman’s hit — and the decision to pitch to him — was the turning point in the game.

“It didn’t really cross my mind, honestly,” the right-hander said of pitching around Freeman and going after Adam Duvall. “I feel like I’ve had pretty good success against Freddie. Fastball kind of caught a little too much of the plate.”

Nola is a competitive beast on the mound and those types of pitchers usually don’t like to walk batters. So, did Kapler consider taking the decision out of Nola’s hands and ordering an intentional walk of Freeman?

“Given how early it was in the game and given the fact that he's 9 for 41 off Aaron and Aaron has had a lot of success against Freeman in the past, you trust your horse there,” Kapler said. “You trust your ace. And I trust him immensely to make a big pitch in that situation.

“I think Aaron wants to go after every hitter. It's something we talk about pretty frequently. He feels like he can beat any hitter. We feel like he can beat any hitter. He had a history of beating Freddie Freeman. At that point in the game, it felt like the right thing for Aaron and the club to let him go after Freddie.”

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

“I haven’t been the best this month, obviously,” Nola said. “I’ve given up a good bit of runs and home runs. I haven’t really shut the other team down in a few games. Had a couple bad games where I’ve given up four or five runs. It’s hard to win those games for sure when you’re giving up those kind of runs.”

Harper did not realize that the Phils were winless in Nola’s last six starts.

“I’m kind of shocked, actually,” he said. “I had no idea. Definitely, that’s tough. He goes out there and puts his heart out there every single day for us. He’s our guy.”

The unfortunate irony in all this is that the Phils arranged their rotation so that Nola can start every fifth day in a playoff chase. As Harper said, he’s their guy, and they wanted him on the mound as much as possible. The strategy has not paid off, however.

“Yeah, I'd really like to be able to score some more runs for Aaron,” Kapler said. “Maybe get him an early lead and put a little confidence in him. I can understand. It's certainly disappointing.”

Nola said he’s not fatigued.

“I feel fine,” he said. “My body is healthy.”

He lines up to pitch one of the games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

What will the Phillies’ playoff chances look like then?

Will they even still be in the race?

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Poor fan faceplants, food platter in hand, as Freddie Freeman gets to Jake Arrieta

Poor fan faceplants, food platter in hand, as Freddie Freeman gets to Jake Arrieta

This poor fella.

And no, we're not talking about Jake Arrieta for giving up an RBI single to Freddie Freeman.

Just before Freeman's first-inning knock, a fan behind the plate was ambling his way to his seat behind the plate, platter of food in hand, when disaster struck.

Trying to step over a low rope, he took a bit of a tumble. No food remained, only shame and an unapologetically funny moment.

Arrieta wasn't the only person in the camera shot playing through pain.

Check out the video above. 

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

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