ATLANTA - A few thousand people dotted the stands Tuesday night at soon-to-be-abandoned Turner Field for the first of 19 games between the game's two worst offenses. This is what rebuilding baseball looks like, and the Phillies can derive some comfort from the fact that they are a year ahead of the Braves in the process.
Wins are not hollow for these Phillies. A 3-2 victory over Atlanta pushed them to five games over .500, tying their best mark this season. If the surprising Phillies are to prove they are no fluke, they must beat teams like the Braves.
They must beat them often.
On Tuesday, the Phillies followed a familiar script: They mustered just enough offense and rode their pitching. The Phillies' last seven wins have all been by one run. The last time that happened was 1942.
"You need luck. You need to be good," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I think we're good and lucky. I'm not saying we're the best. We're doing things right. And we have luck on our side."
The 2016 Phillies reached 19 wins in 12 fewer games than last season's team. This game started a stretch of 12 games, nine of which are at home, against rebuilding or middling teams. It is a chance for the Phillies to pad their record.
Mackanin said he refused to let those thoughts creep into his mind. It is too early, he said, to deem an opponent good or bad. But the Braves are on pace for 125 losses, and the Phillies now have as many wins this season at Turner Field as the home team does. Atlanta is 1-16 at home.
Both of these teams, as currently constructed, cannot hit. The Braves are astronomically inept; they have eight home runs this season. Their lineup Tuesday contained one hitter, Freddie Freeman, who has homered in 2016. One.
The Braves average 2.97 runs per game, the Phillies 3.24. The Braves have a .582 OPS as a team. The Phillies, who rank 29th with a .645 OPS, have a worse on-base percentage than Atlanta. Both teams have regarded position-player prospects expected in the majors later this summer. That will change the equation.
For now, it is a slap fight.
It helps when Maikel Franco again resembles the budding star that he is. Franco, who had three hits, smashed a hanging curveball in the eighth inning for the Phillies' third run. It was just his second homer since April 23.
"That's what I've been looking for," Franco said. "That was a good pitch to hit."
Adam Morgan did his job. The 26-year-old lefthander, who did not pitch past the fifth inning in his first two starts this season, began the seventh inning at 74 pitches. He recorded the first two outs on four pitches. He issued his first walk of the night to put the tying run on first base.
That was when Morgan trusted his fastball. He started former Phillies infielder Chase d'Arnaud with two fastballs, one at 92 mph and the other 94. They were both strikes. Morgan, ahead in the count, turned to his soft stuff. He threw a curveball, a change-up, and a slider as d'Arnaud stayed alive. The sixth pitch, a slider down in the zone, became a lazy fly ball to Peter Bourjos in right.
The extra juice on his fastball makes him a different pitcher - the meek opponent notwithstanding. His fastball is, on average, 2 mph faster this season than last. Once he gains trust in the livelier fastball, it will create different options with which he can attack hitters.
"My biggest thing was being able to throw inside," Morgan said, "because it opens up the other side of the plate, and that way those righties can't just eliminate the inside part."
"I like what I see from him," Mackanin said.
Add that to the list of positive developments in this charmed season's first 33 games.