Sean Newcomb

Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb leaves game vs. Phillies after being struck on neck by line drive

USA Today Images/Jason Getz

Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb leaves game vs. Phillies after being struck on neck by line drive

ATLANTA — Scary, scary moment in the third inning Saturday night in Atlanta. J.T. Realmuto crushed a line drive back up the middle that hit Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb on the side of the head/neck area so hard that it ricocheted all the way from the mound into the Phillies' dugout.

The play was scored a ground-rule double, but that's not what matters, what matters is Newcomb's health. He was examined by the Braves' training staff and quickly removed from the game. Touki Toussaint took over.

Newcomb was wide-eyed as Braves trainers checked on him. He walked off the field under his own power.

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More on the Phillies

Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

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Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

All season, the expectation has been that the Nationals would eventually overtake the Braves for the NL East lead. Yet here we are 45 percent of the way in and the Braves are still picking up clutch hits, getting outs in the eighth and ninth innings and maintaining a 3½-game division lead. They've been eight or more games over .500 every day since May 12.

The Braves have outscored their opponents by 73 runs — 28 more than the Nationals and 65 more than the Phillies.

As for the Phils, it's a longshot but not infeasible to still be in contention three months from now. They'd first need to continue to hold their own during this rough portion of the schedule and then take advantage of the 12-game run to the All-Star break vs. the Marlins, Mets, Orioles and Pirates (lost 20 of 30).

The most realistic playoff path for the Phillies is the second wild card, but both the Braves and Nats will be worth focusing on because they'll be in both races. And the Braves, because of how they've played in the first half and when they play the Phillies in the second, are a more dangerous team than anticipated.

Clutch hitting

The Braves have been remarkably clutch all season. They've hit an NL-best .286 with runners in scoring position with an .880 OPS that is 38 points higher than any team in baseball.

"Clutch" is not regarded as a projectable skill or trait from year to year, but we've seen plenty of teams stay hot in key situations for an entire season. In the last five years, there have been six teams that performed just as good or better with RISP than the 2018 Braves over a full season.

The Nationals' offense has been average. It should get better as recently-activated Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton get some games under their belts, but with Bryce Harper not having nearly the season he had a year ago and 2017 surprise Ryan Zimmerman spending most of this season on the DL, it's just not the same team. 

Harper is still walking and hitting for power, but he's batting .209 a year after batting .319 and his OPS has dropped by 198 points.

Crooked numbers

Ready for a stat that sticks out as the difference between the Phils and Braves?

The Phillies this season have scored three runs or more in an inning 35 times. That represents about 5 percent of their innings.

The Braves have scored three runs or more in an inning 74 times, which represents 12 percent of their innings.

The Phils have had trouble all year stringing hits together and capitalizing on big opportunities. They stranded the bases loaded with one out twice in the Cardinals series, once with Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera, once with Scott Kingery and Nick Williams. The first missed opportunity prevented the Phils from breaking open a two-run lead in a game they wound up losing, the second kept the game tied.

Starting pitching

The Nationals have the best starting pitcher in baseball in Max Scherzer, but with Stephen Strasburg injured they no longer have a big rotation advantage on the rest of the division. Strasburg was placed on the DL on June 10 with right shoulder inflammation and hasn't yet resumed throwing.

The best active 1-2 punch in the division is either Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez or Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

The Braves' rotation, though, has been surprisingly good this season, mostly because of Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. 

Foltynewicz also hit the DL last week but could return as soon as Sunday. A hard thrower whose command has now matched his stuff, Foltynewicz has a 2.16 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 79 innings and has been the breakout pitcher in the National League in 2018.

The lefty Newcomb, a 2014 first-round pick acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade, is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA and .204 opponents' batting average.

On pace ...

The over/under win totals set in Vegas before the season had the Braves at 74.5 wins, the Phillies at 75.5 and the Nationals at 92.5.

As of Thursday, the Braves are on pace to finish 95-67. 

The Phillies and Nationals are each on pace to go 89-73.

Since MLB instituted the two-wild-card format, no NL team has made the playoffs with fewer than 87 wins.

The season series

The Phillies face the Nationals in D.C. this weekend and will miss Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez. That's huge, especially with another four-game series the following weekend.

The Phillies have faced the Nationals just three times all season so 16 games remain. After the two upcoming series, the Phils draw the Nationals for two series in August and one in September.

As for the Braves, the Phillies won't get a chance to improve upon their 5-7 head-to-head record until the end of September. The teams meet for a four-game series Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta and then again the final series of the season Sept. 28-30 at Citizens Bank Park. Seven of the final 11 games are the Phillies vs. Braves.

Something that makes you go hmmm ...

Over the last 30 days, the Phillies have hit .225/.305/.375 and have a 4.68 ERA.

The Mets over that span have hit .221/.301/.375 with a 4.42 ERA.

Yet the Phillies went 12-15 and the Mets were 5½ games worse at 7-21.

More on the Phillies

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Atlanta has seen enough of Odubel Herrera

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Atlanta has seen enough of Odubel Herrera

Phillies (41-69) at Braves (51-60)
7:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' dominance over the Braves continued in Tuesday's series opener with a 5-2 win. It made the Phils 21-19 against the NL East this season and 10-2 against the Braves.

Atlanta would be just a game under .500 if you removed the Phillies from its schedule.

Let's take a look at the second and final game of the series tonight:

1. Red-hot Herrera
Three years in the majors, three prolonged hot streaks for Odubel Herrera, who is up to .282/.325/.456 after another big night Tuesday.

Herrera last night went 3 for 4 with a homer (his 12th), a double (his 34th), two RBIs, two runs and two steals.

Just like that, even through struggles that lasted a few months, Herrera's OPS is up to .781, an identical mark to 2016.

Herrera is riding an 11-game hitting streak but he's been locked in much longer than that. He's hit .338 with a .951 OPS since June 3 and .370 with a 1.072 OPS since July 3.

Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs set a goal for Herrera at the All-Star break: For the rest of 2017, more walks than strikeouts. Since then, Herrera has nine walks and 16 K's. Prior to that point, he had 16 walks and 84 K's.

The Braves have sure seen enough of Herrera. He's 21 for 49 (.429) against them this season with seven doubles, five homers, 12 RBIs and 13 runs.

2. Expectations for Eickhoff
Coming off a 33-start season in which he posted a 3.65 ERA and pitched 197⅓ innings, Jerad Eickhoff appeared poised to take the next step in 2017 with perhaps a lower ERA and an innings total exceeding 200. But it's been a rocky season all the way through for Eickhoff, who has dealt with poor command, a curveball that hasn't been as consistent as years past, a lack of run support and an upper back strain that cost him four starts.

Eickhoff (2-7, 4.56) has been better lately, allowing three runs or less in five of his last six starts. But he hasn't been going deep into games. Eickhoff pitched seven innings in his season debut and 6⅔ in his second start but hasn't exceeded six innings since.

The Phillies are hoping that over the season's final six weeks, Eickhoff can spot his pitches better early in games and revert back to that workhorse form. They'd like to enter the offseason knowing they have more than just Aaron Nola as a rotation fixture.

Eickhoff has seen the Braves more than he's seen any other team — tonight will be the 10th meeting. He's pitched extremely well in the previous nine starts, posting a 1.98 ERA and .200 opponents' batting average with just 13 walks and four home runs allowed in 50 innings.

Freddie Freeman is 6 for 18 vs. Eickhoff with a double, two homers, four walks and four strikeouts. Brandon Phillips is 4 for 8 with a pair of doubles. Nick Markakis is 6 for 20 with three doubles of his own.

All other Braves are a combined 8 for 54 (.148) off Eickhoff.

3. Another look at Newcomb
The Phillies face Braves lefty Sean Newcomb (1-6, 4.61) for the second time in 11 days. They scored just one run on two hits against him on July 29 in a win at Citizens Bank Park.

The league seems to be catching up to Atlanta's 24-year-old rookie. He started his major-league career with four straight quality starts and ended his first full month with a 1.48 ERA. But he's made just one quality start in six tries since as his ERA has risen substantially.

Newcomb was a high draft pick, selected by the Angels 15th overall in 2014 out of the University of Hartford, a school that produced Jeff Bagwell and no other major-leaguers of note.

Newcomb was the main piece the Braves received from the Angels in the Andrelton Simmons trade prior to 2016, a deal that, so far, has worked out better for the Halos.

Newcomb is a four-pitch pitcher who's thrown his fastball 63 percent of the time this season, his curveball 23 percent, his slider eight percent and changeup seven percent. 

Of the 17 extra-base hits Newcomb has allowed, 15 have come off the fastball. His opponents have hit a combined .171 against his slider and curve.

Lefties have actually hit 53 points better against Newcomb than righties, albeit in a small sample.

Herrera and Cesar Hernandez are the only Phillies who own hits off Newcomb.

4. Neris rounding into form
Hector Neris is on a nice little roll here, having allowed one run over his last nine innings with 10 strikeouts.

Since allowing three straight home runs at Dodger Stadium at the end of April, Neris has been taken deep just once in 39 appearances and posted a 2.29 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning.

He hasn't been as consistently sharp as he was in 2016 when the splitter confused hitters for five months, and it remains to be seen whether his long-term future here will be as a closer or setup man. But either way, the Phillies have a good one in Neris.

Since 2016, Neris' 131 appearances rank third in the majors, behind only Addison Reed and Brad Hand. 

He's also one of only four National League relievers since the start of last season with at least 150 strikeouts and fewer than 50 walks. The others are Kenley Jansen, Felipe Rivero and Seung-hwan Oh.

5. This and that
• With a leadoff double and a walk last night, Cesar Hernandez reached base multiple times for the 10th straight game. He's hit .341 with a .439 OBP since coming back from the DL on July 17.

• Herrera's .571 slugging percentage since June 3 places him ahead of Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rizzo, Justin Upton, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu, Freddie Freeman, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Jake Lamb, Manny Machado, Michael Conforto and many others over that span.