After an unscheduled day off in support of taking efforts to stand against racial injustice, the Philadelphia Phillies will be back in action, returning home for the first time in an almost 10-game road stand. They’ll welcome in the Atlanta Braves today, in what could prove to be a pivotal three-game series toward determining the eventual NL East champion (Game 1: 7.05pm ET Friday).
The series, which kicks off with the league-wide celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, will take place at Citizens Bank Park. Here we preview the encounter and give our game one Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies predictions with picks against the best of the American oddssetters.
Last Time Braves & Phillies Played
The Philadelphia Phillies are a fascinating case. Just when you think the team is decent and starting to turn the corner, they put on a baffling performance thanks in large part to MLB’s worst bullpen. Such was the case the last time the Phillies and Atlanta Braves met just a week ago. The Phillies played the division-leading Braves for the first time in 2020 in early August, where they dropped two of four en route to splitting the opening series. In the second series, which took place from August 21st – 23rd, the Phillies capped a five game losing streak with two losses to Atlanta, before they squeaked out a win in game three. This started a three-game winning streak for Philadelphia, one the team is still on.
Of the four games the Phillies have lost to the Braves this year, only one of them was close by the time the final score rolled around. Though, in those four games, it was the Phillies who actually struck first in three of the contests, carrying leads into the 5th inning of a seven-inning game in the first series and 8th inning of a loss in the second series. It was the bullpen, which has provided headaches and heartaches throughout the city of Philadelphia, that led to the team’s most recent loss to the Braves as the Phillies relinquished a three-run lead allowing Atlanta’s hitters six runs in the last three innings of the game.
By the Numbers
Sometimes the stats don’t tell the full story because if they did, one would imagine the NL East would have much better records among its five teams. As it stands, the division is collectively the worst in baseball, which also just so happens to mean it is the most competitive top to bottom. The Braves are holding the lead but it is tentative at best with the Miami Marlins (two games back) hanging closely behind and the Phillies (four games behind), not far off. In fact, a Phillies sweep of the Braves would put them right back in the hunt for their first NL East title in a remarkable eight years.
The Braves are only six wins over .500 and currently, they stand to win the division. The NL East teams shouldn’t be this bad though, at least not when you look at the numbers. In order, the New York Mets, Phillies, Washington Nationals and Braves currently have the second, third, fifth and sixth best batting averages in MLB, with the teams all hitting at a clip of .259 or better with the exception of the Marlins, who are hitting just .244 as a team. Remove Miami for a second and it is incredible that among one division sits four of the six best hitting teams. Continuing down the slash line, the NL East has the two top teams, the Mets and Phillies, in on base percentage, and three in the top 10 in slugging, with the Braves ranked fifth in MLB with a clip of .453, as well as three in the top seven in OPS, with the Phillies ranking fourth in MLB with their mark of .799.
Given numbers like average and on base percentage are aggregates, they are the best way currently to judge the NL East’s teams given no division has seen its teams miss more games this year than the East. Due to two separate incidents involving coronavirus cases, the NL East has already seen nearly 30 games postponed this year, many of which were divisional games.
Despite playing less games than many of their MLB opponents, the Braves still find themselves in the top 10 in RBI (149), runs (152), and home runs (42). The Phillies, who have scored 139 runs this year, rank fourth in MLB in runs per game, averaging 5.35 on the year.
So why is the NL East so bad overall? Look no further than pitching. Only the Braves rank in the top 10 in ERA, sitting in 10th with a mark of 4.16. The Marlins are 13th, the Mets 20th, the Nationals 21st and then the Phillies with the 25th best mark in MLB with an ERA of 5.24. You have to go to the middle of the pack, 15th in MLB, to find the NL East team ranked highest in the division in WHIP, that being the Braves at 1.33.
Probable Pitchers: (PHI) Zack Wheeler vs (ATL) Robbie Erlin
There is no doubt the Braves are a better team on the mound than the Phillies when it comes to the teams’ bullpens but from a starters standpoint, things are a little bit more even than they may seem. On Friday, the Phillies will be fortunate to have one of their best such pitchers on the mound in the undefeated Zack Wheeler. He will be opposed by Atlanta’s Robbie Erlin, who has had an up-and-down year.
Erlin struggled against the Phillies when he stepped in to pitch in relief on August 10th, giving up three home runs in just over 40 pitches. Since then however, Erlin has found some success, pitching effectively in his last two starts which included a win over the Phillies this past Saturday. Wheeler, who the Phillies acquired from the Mets in the offseason, is pitching exactly the way the team expected he would. A perfect 3-0, Wheeler has struck out 20 and has a 2.76 ERA in his starts this year. Wheeler has yet to have a bad start this year, going at least 5.2 innings in each of his five outings and not allowing more than three earned runs in any single start. His most recent outing, which saw him get a no decision against the Braves due to a blown save, was one where Wheeler struck out a season high eight hitters in seven strong innings.
Our Betting Preview’s Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies Predictions & Picks Conclusion
The Phillies have been a great team this year in all areas but one. The only problem is that one area, the bullpen, has been historically bad. The pen has negated all of the Phillies offensive gains but there is reason to believe it may be turning the corner from completely awful to just bad or even mediocre. That turnaround couldn’t be happening at a better time as the Phillies will need the pen to help them win against the Braves.
With Wheeler on the mound, the Phillies have one of their most reliable arms. He is capable of pitching long into the game which is the best Philadelphia can hope for. With somewhat of a home field advantage present outside the outfield gates of Citizens Bank Park thanks to the Phandemic Krew, coupled with Wheeler on the mound and the offense still humming, look for Philadelphia to take game one. These are USAbetting’s Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies predictions for this preview:
- The pick is to wager on the Phillies -1.5 on the runline spread @ biggest odds of +150 with Bovada. It is +145 with BetOnline and +144 with Bookmaker.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.