Week one of the MLB season is officially in the books, and boy did the 2021 campaign get off to a great start for the (5-1) Philadelphia Phillies. The team kicked off their season with a near perfect homestand and today they hit the road for the first time to take on a familiar foe in the struggling (2-4) Atlanta Braves (7.20pm ET Friday).
With Philly already taking three from the defending NL East champs, can the Braves even the season series with a sweep of their own? Time will tell as these two rivals meet for the second time in the first three series of the season, starting today.
While it’s not rare for divisional rivals to face each other, it is rare for six of a team’s first nine games to come against the same team. That is exactly the case for the Phillies and Braves, who are set for their second meeting in under a week.
The Braves opened on the road against the Phillies and it was certainly not the kind of start to the season Atlanta had hoped for. Philadelphia’s pitching was basically lights out as the team swept their rivals for the first time since the opening series of 2019. That was also played at Citizen’s Bank Park. Needless to say, the Braves are probably hoping not to open their season in the not-so-friendly confines of Philadelphia next year.
Clutch hitting and stellar defense also helped define the new look Phillies, who are aiming to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012. Philadelphia walked off on Opening Day before turning to their arms to take care of the rest. The Phillies pitching held the Braves’ high-powered offense to just five runs over the first 27 innings of the season. It was a far cry from the kind of numbers Atlanta put up last year when they established themselves as one of the most prolific hitting teams in the league. The season is still early and there is plenty time for Atlanta to turn things around, especially if they take this series against the Phillies. If the Phillies were to win the series however, Atlanta might have a bit of a hole to climb out of. After all, while it is early, the fact that these teams are playing nearly a third of their games against each other within the season’s first two weeks, could be an early indicator of playoff chatter. While rare, one’s record against an opponent can be a tiebreaker and as it stands, another series win for Philadelphia would put them firmly in control of that.
The Phillies have another tiebreaker over Atlanta as well, that of a divisional record. With just one loss to the New York Mets, the Phillies possess a 5-1 divisional mark compared to just 2-4. Should the Braves sweep the Phillies this weekend, suddenly things will be all tied up. Atlanta is coming off winning their last two against the short-handed Washington Nationals. Save for one game, the bats have yet really to break out. Will that formula change against the Phillies at Truist Park or will the Phillies’ pitching stifle the team yet again?
Game One Pitching Probables: (PHI) Zack Wheeler vs (ATL) Charlie Morton
Not only do the Braves have to face the Phillies again, but they are stuck trying to figure out how to hit and pitch (yes, pitch) against the man who single-handedly beat them when the two teams faced each other on April 3rd.
Zack Wheeler absolutely dominated the Braves offense, tossing seven effortless innings of one-hit ball. Wheeler, who also struck out 10 batters, actually had more hits in the game from the plate than hits he allowed on the mound. Certainly no slouch with the bat as far as pitchers go, Wheeler plated two runs as he went 2-3 from the plate on the day, giving the Phillies the only runs they needed to shut out the Braves for the first time in the last 10 games. Philly would end up winning 4-0 as the bullpen finished what Wheeler started, allowing no hits and striking out four in the game’s last two innings.
Charlie Morton will once again oppose Wheeler and to the veteran’s credit, he actually didn’t do all that bad in his 2021 debut. Morton allowed just three hits over the first four innings of his outing, but in the fifth, the wheels came off a bit. After starting the inning with two outs, Morton allowed the next five batters (including Wheeler) to reach base, leading the Phillies to score three runs. Morton didn’t come out for the sixth, finishing his night and his line at five innings of three run ball. Just a few mistakes turned a stellar performance into just enough for the Phillies to take advantage of. With the way Wheeler was pitching, there was no looking back.
This time around, both Wheeler and Morton come into this meeting knowing the lineup they are going to face. Will Wheeler catch lightning in a bottle twice or will Morton find the success he had against the Phillies at the beginning of his most recent start?
X-Factor: Rhys Hoskins Off to a Great Start
While top NL East hitters like Juan Soto (.250), Freddie Freeman (.111) and Francisco Lindor (.214), have been slow to get going in 2021, the opposite can be said of Phillies’ first baseman, Rhys Hoskins. After finishing the last two seasons batting under .250, Hoskins has come out in 2021 on an absolute tear. With six doubles in his first 24 at bats (he had nine all of last year), Hoskins leads the NL in that category. Currently in the top-15 in MLB in slugging (T-10th), average (14th) and OPS (14th), Hoskins leads all Phillies with a .417 average and more importantly, a .308 average with two doubles when there are runners on base.
He is not striking out in these situations the way he did last year and if that continues, the Phillies have their missing piece. In a lineup with Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and last year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Alec Bohm, Hoskins has gone from being a liability last year to a facilitator at the top of the order. A 2-5 of Hoskins, Harper, Realmuto and Bohm is good enough to compete with any team and is reminiscent of the Phillies core of 2008 of Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell.
Our Betting Preview’s Philadelphia Phillies vs Atlanta Braves Predictions & Picks Verdict
Atlanta has yet to find its swing and that doesn’t bode well against a pitcher who seems to be every bit the ace he needs to be. Wheeler is dealing and was touching 99 on the gun in his first outing of the year. While he may not get 10 strikeouts and record two hits from the plate again, it seems likely that he can continue to stifle Atlanta’s offense.
The Braves picked a bad time to run into the buzzsaw that seems to be this early season Phillies team. Even still, the USA sports betting companies have the Phillies as road underdogs, which is a perfect opportunity to bet this squad. So these are our Philadelphia Phillies vs Atlanta Braves predictions and MLB game picks for this preview:
- Take the Phillies +1.5 on the runline @ -180 with Bovada, BetOnline & Intertops.
- Look for the under 8 runs @ best odds of -105 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.