7:20 PM EST – Line: Braves -116, Over/Under: 9.5
Division Rivals clash en route to the All-Star Break, as the Philadelphia Phillies travel to SunTrust Field to battle the Atlanta Braves in the second-leg of a Three-Game Series. Trailing by 7.0 Games in the National League East, the Phillies (43-40, 2nd in NL East) have NOT been in anything resembling good form of late, having lost Thirteen out of their last Twenty Games heading into this Series, which has also had a negative effect on their standing for a Wild Card; Philadelphia currently trails the Milwaukee Brewers for the final Wild Card in the National League. After a number of high-profile moves in the Offseason, Gabe Kapler’s charges haven’t come close to meeting the high expectations heaped upon them after signing the likes of Bryce Harper (83 G, .243 BA, 74 H, 48 R, 23 2B, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 55 BB, 100 K) in Free Agency, with the 2015 NL MVP struggling to adapt to his new surroundings. A year after leading the Majors with a whopping 130 Walks, Harper has gone a complete 180 degrees, leading the Majors with a whopping 100 Strikeouts, which would place him on pace for a career-high in that dubious category. Needless to say, this is NOT what the Fanbase though that they’d be receiving for Thirteen Years and $330 Million… And then there has been the Pitching Staff which as we’re about to detail, has also fallen well short of expectations. Taking the mound tonight for the Phillies will be Nick Pivetta (4-2, 5.63 ERA, 10 GS, 56.0 IP, 67 H, 35 ER, 14 HR, 18 BB, 48 K, 1.518 WHIP), who like most of the Starting Rotation, is looking to improve upon what can only be described as a disappointing First Half of the Season. As a group, Philadelphia ranks Eleventh in the National League in Team ERA (4.60), Fourteenth in Hits (760), Twelfth in Strikeouts (694), and most importantly, dead-last in Home Runs Allowed (141). Indeed, few Pitching Staffs have suffered in this Long ball Revival like Kapler’s have, with all five members of the Rotation having been tagged at least fourteen times thus far. For his troubles, Pivetta has played the victim on fourteen occasions already, despite only making Ten Starts (56.0 IP), or in other words translates to a dismal 2.3 Homers per Nine Innings. Hell, he’s served up Seven Homers over his last 17.2 Innings alone, with Eleven Strikeouts in comparison to Eight Walks over that span. When we last him, the young Righthander was roughed up for Four Earned Runs on Nine Hits (Two Home Runs) in just 5.2 Innings of work against the struggling New York Mets, ultimately earning a No-Decision, thanks to a late rally from his club. Against the Braves, Pivetta has put together a solid career showing, with a 4-1 Record, 3.48 ERA, and 1.270 WHIP, but in Two Starts in 2019 has floundered with a 6.35 ERA and 1.676 WHIP. His most recent encounter with Atlanta was an 8-9 Phillies’ Loss back on June 14th, in which the 26-Year Old was hammered for Three Home Runs and Eight Hits over 6.2 Innings, though he did not factor into the Decision.
Meanwhile, the hottest team in the league over the past month has been the Braves (50-34, 1st in NL East), who in June went a staggering 20-7, which coincidentally vault up the Standings in the National League, while creating a rather comfortable cushion in their Division. After returning to the Playoffs last year following a four-year hiatus, Brian Snitker’s charges appear destined for a second consecutive National League East Crown, owning a Seven-Game Lead over their closest competition, the aforementioned Phillies. The strength of this club thus far has been their young Lineup, which has really come together in 2019, ranking Second in the National League in Runs Scored (456), On-Base Percentage (.338), Slugging Percentage (.461), and OPS (.799), and Third in Hits (769) and Home Runs (131). Six different players have tagged at least a Dozen Homers, led by All-Star First Baseman, Freddie Freeman (83 G, .310 BA, 102 H, 62 R, 22 2B, 22 HR, 63 RBI, 43 BB, 68 K). After leading the Majors in 2018 in both Hits (191) and Doubles (44), the 29-Year Old is on pace to match his previous career-high in Doubles, while already nearly reaching last year’s Home Run total of Twenty-Three. Taking the mound for the Braves will be Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 5.06 ERA, 2 GS, 10.2 IP, 16 H, 6 ER, 3 HR, 3 BB, 5 K, 1,781 WHIP), whom the club signed as a Free Agent a month ago. A former 20-Game Winner (2015), a Cy Young (2015), and a World Series Champion (2017), Keuchel could very well be the missing piece for Atlanta, who have suffered a number injuries to their Pitching Staff, particularly to their Starting Rotation. The 31-Year Old held out well into the season due to being unable to land a contract to his liking, but this looks like a situation in which the fit makes perfect sense for all parties involved; the club signed him to a one-year deal, which gives them a potential ace as they gear up for a lengthy postseason run, while also affording him the opportunity to prove himself on short deal in the hopes of a bigger payoff down the road. While it remains to be seen if the Lefthander can bounce back from a 2018 campaign in which his ERA (3.74) and WHIP (1.314) increased, and his Strikeout (per Nine Innings) Average dropped to 6.7, the expectation is that he will eventually settle in, particularly in transitioning from the American League to the National League. After taking a Loss in his first Start on June 21st, 3-4 at the Washington Nationals, Keuchel came back five days later at the Chicago Cubs, earning his first Win of the season. While he was far from sharp, once again yielding Three Earned Runs on Eight Hits, serving up a pair of Homers with Three Walks in comparison to just Two Strikeouts, he kept the visiting side in the game long enough to rally back and steal the victory.