Hopefully, the Braves bats are rested and ready to roll on Friday as the offense looks to bounce back from its first three-game series versus the Phillies last week, when the NL East rival held Atlanta to just three runs overall and handed the Bravos a season-opening sweep.
The Braves lineup looked much better in its most recent series against the Nationals, taking two of three and sweeping Tuesday’s doubleheader. Can Ronald Acuna Jr. and company keep the momentum going this weekend? And can Atlanta sneak a series win over Philly even though Max Fried won’t get a crack this time?
Below I’ve briefly detailed this weekend’s matchup versus the Phillies…
*All times are Eastern Time
Game 1: Friday, April 9, 7:20 PM
Bally Sports South / MLBN
Zack Wheeler vs. Charlie Morton
The series MVP award for last week’s matchup would most likely go to pitcher Zack Wheeler as not only did he toss seven scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out ten in that second game against the Braves, but the 30-year-old righty also drove in two runs with the bat. On the mound, Wheeler’s four-seam fastball is currently averaging a tick faster so far in 2021 (97.7 MPH), and he tallied half of his punchouts last weekend with the offering. Atlanta better be ready to swing on Friday because you bet Philly’s starter will be leaning on the heater again.
Charlie Morton didn’t pitch poorly last Saturday, and it looked as if he’d go rather deep into that start following back-to-back strikeouts to begin his fifth and final inning. However, starting with Jean Segura‘s two-out single, the Braves’ newly-signed pitcher wound up barely getting out of the frame as the next five consecutive Phillies batters reached base (the last one being from an intentional walk). A five-inning outing featuring five strikeouts, two walks, and three runs from six hits is a solid first-start to the season, and with some cooperation from Atlanta’s offense, Morton could’ve very easily gotten a win. Hopefully, the righty won’t run out of gas this time around and finish strong with a quality start.
Game 2: Saturday, April 10, 7:20 PM
Bally Sports Southeast / MLBN
Zach with an ‘H’ also pitched well for Philadelphia last week, completing the sweep with seven innings of one-run ball to go along with eight strikeouts and just one walk. Eflin flew through his start against Atlanta, needing just 80 pitches overall thanks to a nearly unhittable 92-MPH two-seam fastball that he kept pounding the upper part of the zone with. The Braves are due against the right-hander as Eflin has continued to benefit from some luck. Entering Saturday’s game, Eflin’s career 4.67 FIP versus the Braves is nearly 1.5 points higher than his 3.22 ERA. A big game from second baseman Ozzie Albies would be fitting here, given his unluckiness at the plate so far.
Despite his efforts, last time out, Ian Anderson just couldn’t get his fastball going against the Phillies. Though the offering lacked its usual spin-rate, its velocity and location was right where it usually is as Anderson threw 93-94 MPH darts at the top of the zone for much of the outing. However, three of his four hits allowed came off the heater, including Andrew Knapp‘s second-inning home run, which ultimately was Anderson’s only mistake of the day. If the Braves bats can get going against Eflin on Saturday, another four-hitter with seven strikeouts and a pair of walks should get the job done and give Atlanta’s 22-year-old righty his first win of the 2021 season.
Game 3: Sunday, April 11, 7:08 PM
Matt Moore vs. Drew Smyly
With a primetime Sunday Night Baseball showing on ESPN, the Braves will have an excellent opportunity to put up some runs when they face the Phillies Matt Moore, who struggled in his first start of the season, exiting the game in the fourth inning. A lefty pitcher, Moore heavily depends on a 92 MPH fastball that so far hasn’t missed very many bats in 2021 as opponents have hit .375 against the offering. This is a below-average pitcher that doesn’t usually generate much swing and miss, so if the Braves find themselves on the brink of yet another sweep this weekend, Sunday is their chance to save the series.
This lefty versus lefty matchup features another one of the Braves offseason additions in Drew Smyly, who really impressed this past Tuesday when he struck out eight Nationals batters and worked through six innings of four-hit ball. Last time out, Smyly’s curveball was sharp, and by primarily throwing it down and away to righty batters, the pitch accounted for all but three of his punchouts versus Washington. So far this season, the Phillies offense ranks in the bottom-five against the curveball (per FanGraphs Pitch Value), so I expect plenty of breaking balls from the 31-year-old southpaw.
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