The Atlanta Braves finished the regular season as the highest-scoring team in baseball, but in their first playoff game in front of their home crowd, they would fail to cross home plate once. At risk of falling into a significant hole before the series shifts back to Philadelphia, the Braves offense will need to come alive, and we’ll preview the game before going over my play for the first five innings.
In their postseason battle last year, Spencer Strider let up a pivotal home run on the road, giving all the momentum to Philadelphia with their home crowd behind them. This season, the strikeout artist was able to take on the Phillies on his home mound, and despite racking up eight strikeouts, Strider would allow two runs (one earned) on five hits, with the biggest being a Bryce Harper solo home run.
Typically, a three-run deficit for the Braves' offense would be considered nothing, but on Saturday night, it became insurmountable. Atlanta led the league in extra-base hit percentage this season, yet in their game-one loss, all five of their hits ended up being singles. Not only would the Braves fail to come up with any extra-base hits, but they didn’t capitalize with runners in scoring position, finishing the game with 17 runners left on base.
Atlanta is now tasked with facing Zack Wheeler, who was phenomenal in his wild card start last week, throwing 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts and one earned run allowed. When Wheeler pitched in the NLDS against the Braves just last season, he took the loss after allowing three earned runs over six innings of work.
The Phillies right-hander would receive no run support in that outing, so he’ll be looking for a different outcome tonight when his offense takes on lefty Max Fried. Due to injury, Fried only made 14 starts this season, but he was still highly impressive in those outings, pitching to a 2.55 ERA with 80 punchouts across 77.7 innings. When he faced the Phillies back on September 12th, he held them to one run on four hits across five innings.
The Phillies F5 moneyline is currently priced at (+120), and I’ll be backing them for my play. Zack Wheeler showed in the wild card round that he is ready for another strong postseason, and he has already gone in and dominated the Braves twice in their home ballpark this season. With all the momentum on the Phillies' side, I think they can build an early lead tonight.
Over the past 30 days, the Phillies lineup ranks 12th in hard hit percentage, 11th in wRC+, and 9th in wOBA against left-handed pitching. They have a tough matchup with Max Fried on the mound, but if there is one place he’s struggled this season, it’s at home. In 30.1 home innings, Fried has a 3.86 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and 4.08 xFIP, with a .291 batting average against.
Atlanta has great numbers against right-handed pitching over the last 30 days, but that hasn’t seemed to translate into the postseason. As a team, they hit .180 last year in the NLDS, and they had a .397 OPS in game one of this series. Now they need to face Zack Wheeler, who has a 3.16 ERA and 2.60 FIP in 102.2 road innings. In 14 innings in Atlanta this season, Wheeler allowed just one earned run on six hits with 17 punchouts.
Philadelphia Phillies F5 (+120)