After taking care of business out West — winning seven of their ten games against the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres — the Braves return home for the final week of the season with the NL East on the line. They begin with a pivotal series against the Phillies, who sit just 2.5 games back in the division. Win all three, and the Braves won’t have to worry about the Mets to end the season; they will be NL East champions for the fourth consecutive season. However, if Atlanta drops one or more, they’ll give the Mets a chance to play spoiler, who would love nothing more than to end the Braves season after the way their second half has gone.
Morton has been Mr. Consistent for the Braves this season. He hasn’t missed a start and boasts a 13-6 record with a 3.53 ERA and 10.4 K/9. The last time he didn’t go at least five innings was all the way back on June 11th against the Marlins, and he’s gone at least six innings in four of his last five starts. However, the Braves haven’t found much team success with him on the mound as of late, as they have lost five of his last six starts. Morton’s started four times against the Phillies this season and is 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA. However, Philadelphia has been able to get on base against him, which can be seen by his 1.528 WHIP against them.
Unfortunately, the Phillies will also be putting their best foot forward when it comes to starting pitchers. In Game 1, NL Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler gets the ball, who is 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA — good for a ridiculous 7.3 bWAR — and he’s owned the Braves this season. In four starts, Wheeler is 2-1 with a minuscule 1.35 ERA, striking out 34 batters in 26.2 innings. If the Phillies are planning on coming back and stealing the division, you have to think this is a must-win game for them tonight.
Wheeler may be the only one on these teams receiving any Cy Young love, but he’s not the hottest starting pitcher in this series. Since the middle of July, the 27-year-old lefty has been unhittable, posting a 1.78 ERA over his last 13 starts, including two complete game shutouts. His last time out against the Padres, Fried could not be touched, as it took him just 98 pitches to finish off San Diego, who could muster just three hits and no runs. He’s in one of those grooves that few pitchers on the planet can match, but Aaron Nola is one of them.
Nola isn’t having the season many expected, recording a 9-8 record with a 4.64 ERA. However, this is a pitcher that posted four consecutive seasons with a sub-four ERA from 2017-2020, including an All-Star campaign in which he went 17-6 with a 2.34 ERA and finished third in the NL Cy Young race. For the last half-decade, Nola’s been the ace of the Phillies staff, and he’s capable of tossing a gem on any given night.
Anderson is coming off his best performance since returning from the IL — a seven inning gem against the Diamondbacks in which he allowed just one run and set down the final 17 batters he faced. Those are the kind of moments the Braves have come to expect from the rookie since he arrived in Atlanta late last season, especially when the lights are the brightest. Despite the situation, Anderson always seems to have a sense of calmness about him, which will come in handy on Thursday with the NL East on the line.
Kyle Gibson was acquired by the Phillies at the trade deadline after posting some really good numbers with the Rangers (6-3, 2.87 ERA). However, he hasn’t been nearly as productive with Philadelphia, recording a 4.87 ERA in 11 appearances (10 starts). Gibson’s also yet to face the Braves this season.
The math is simple: win all three games against the Phillies, and the Braves will capture the NL East. If Atlanta takes two out of three, they will need to win just one of their final four games to clinch. Even if they win just one game, they’ll be in a good position to finish things off against the Mets (and the Rockies if necessary). However, if the Braves are swept, the Phillies will take sole possession of first place, and the Braves could have to win all four of their remaining games just to force a one-game playoff. Let’s hope that’s not something we have to worry about heading into the weekend.