Here. We. Go.
Ready or not, the Phillies are about to start a 17-day stretch in which they will play 17 games in a row against National League East rivals, part of a run of 26 consecutive divisional games. And although it’s still far too early to label it as “make or break,” this portion of the schedule will go a long way toward deciding whether the Phillies will be leading the pack or playing from behind as the summer begins.
It all begins tonight in Atlanta with the opener of a three-game series against the scorching Braves, who completed a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday. The Braves have won seven consecutive games and 10 of the last 12 to overtake the Phillies and seize the division lead by 1 1/2 games.
The cavalry is about to arrive, albeit gradually, for the injury-ravaged Phillies. Edubray Ramos came off the injured list and rejoined the bullpen Wednesday night, and fellow reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Roman Quinn could follow this weekend. Left-hander Adam Morgan is about one week away.
Buckle up. The next three weeks before the all-star break could be wild.
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When the Phillies last played the Braves, in the first series of the season, they were catching the defending NL East champions at a vulnerable time. The Braves had two starting pitchers on the injured list and had to use rookies Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies achieved a three-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park.
Eleven weeks later, it’s the Phillies who have issues.
As the division rivals open a three-game series tonight in Atlanta, the Phillies have a Jerad Eickhoff-sized hole in their starting rotation, six relievers on the injured list, and an offense that is still finding its way after losing leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen to a season-ending knee injury. They are 5-8 in their last 13 games and 10-11 in their last 21 games, the picture of a team that is treading water.
The Braves, meanwhile, couldn’t be any hotter. In sweeping the Pirates, they averaged 8.5 runs. They have scored 83 runs in the last 12 games. The starting pitching has been a bit shaky, a major reason for their decision to sign free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel, and the bullpen remains a bit of an adventure. But when the offense is clicking at such a peak level, it hardly matters who’s pitching.
Atlanta’s lineup is configured differently than when the Phillies last saw it. Ronald Acuna Jr., who began the season in the cleanup spot, has been leading off since mid-May. Dansby Swanson, once a bottom-of-the-order fixture, has moved into the No. 2 spot, where he’s having a breakthrough offensive season. Josh Donaldson, the erstwhile No. 2 hitter, is batting cleanup.
The constant: Freddie Freeman. The Braves’ all-star first baseman has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league for seven or eight years, and he’s having his best season yet. Freeman is batting .311 and slugging .592 with a .401 on-base percentage, 17 doubles, and 18 home runs. He has drawn 36 walks and struck out only 49 times. In short, he’s one of the toughest outs in baseball.
So, yes, Nick Pivetta, Aaron Nola, and whomever the Phillies decide to put on the mound for Sunday’s series finale will have their hands full.
“It’s a huge series for us,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “We haven’t been playing well lately, so it’d be good for us to go out there and gain some momentum. And who better to do it against than those guys, you know? It’s definitely a big series for us.”
The Phillies will have a new player on the bench tonight after sending cash to the New York Yankees for utility infielder Brad Miller, a left-handed hitter with power.
Roman Quinn is slated to rejoin the Phillies this weekend, too, after missing seven weeks with a groin strain. But the question, as always, is how long can he stay healthy. Within this story, Quinn and Gabe Kapler explain why they believe that hitting exclusively from the right side will help him stay on the field.
Bravo the Phillies, who raised $768,020 for research, patient care and services to help strike out ALS at yesterday’s annual Phillies Phestival. Over the last 35 years, the team has raised more than $19 million for the cause.
Did someone say that attendance and television ratings are down across baseball so far this season? That isn’t the case in Philadelphia, as Rob Tornoe writes.
Chase Utley made his debut as a studio analyst for SportsNet LA this week and touched on a little of everything from his hatred of the Mets to his thoughts on the Philly media.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta vs. lefty Max Fried in Phillies-Braves opener, 7:20 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola vs. lefty Sean Newcomb in Atlanta, 7:20 p.m.
Sunday: Finale of Phillies-Braves series, 1:20 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open a four-game series in Washington, 7:05 p.m.
June 21: Chase Utley retirement ceremony before Phillies host Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
In case you missed it, Phillies top prospect Alec Bohm was a late addition to the rosters for the Florida State League all-star game, which will be played Saturday in Jupiter, Fla.
Bohm, the Phillies’ first-round pick last year, has been on a tear since getting promoted to high-A Clearwater at the end of April. Entering last night’s game, he was batting .313 and slugging .476 with nine doubles, three triples, three homers and a .374 on-base percentage in 174 at-bats.
The Phillies believed all along that Bohm could move swiftly through the minors because of his polished plate approach from his time at Wichita State. It’s conceivable that the 22-year-old third baseman could wind up at double-A Reading before the end of the season, which would put him in line for a potential big-league call-up next year.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Answer: Thanks, Graham, for the question. The domestic violence policy jointly agreed on by Major League Baseball and the players’ union in 2015 doesn’t allow a team to void a contract even if a player is found guilty of committing an act of domestic assault. So, if the Phillies decided to release Odubel Herrera, they would be on the hook for the remainder of his contract, approximately $24 million through the 2021 season.
Herrera remains on MLB-mandated administrative (paid) leave stemming from his arrest after an incident involving his 20-year-old girlfriend at an Atlantic City casino hotel on Memorial Day. The center fielder is due to appear in Atlantic City Municipal Court on Monday.