2017 Series Preview

Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (48-81) vs. Atlanta Braves (57-71), August 28-August 30

Atlanta_Braves-200x300.jpgThe Atlanta Braves, who are bad, come to Philadelphia for a three-game set against the hometown Phillies, who are worse. 2016 ended with the Braves three games worse than the Phillies, leading some to make the case that the Phillies were ahead of the struggling Braves in the teams’ respective rebuilding phases. 2017, however, has been a freefall for Philadelphia, and they aren’t ahead of any team in this year’s standings.

Still, the Phillies have walked all over the Braves this year, losing to them only twice in 13 games.

WHAT TO EXPECT

It’s nearly September in what has been something of a lost season for the Phillies, and they’re beginning a series against a team with no postseason hopes of its own.

The most exciting parts of this series will probably be named Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola. It’s always worth keeping an eye on Nick Williams, too, who has also played well since his introduction to the big league squad. At this point in the season, especially given how bad of a season it’s been, the main reason to watch is to assess what comes after. Hoskins, Williams, and Nola should be key players for the Phillies long after 2017, and they haven’t done anything to add to the … character-building nature of being a Phillies fan.

The same could be said about Odubel Herrera, but El Torito has been on the disabled list with a hamstring issue. He did take batting practice on Saturday, however, and could be activated soon. Aaron Altherr, another productive young outfielder, is likely to remain out of commission until sometime in September, according to reports.

The Phillies are coming off a series win against the World Series champion Cubs, however, and the Braves are a much less daunting challenge. That, paired with the success they’ve seen against Atlanta in 2017, could make this a series Phillies fans look forward to.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Monday, 7:05 p.m., Lucas Sims (4.13 ERA) vs. Aaron Nola (3.58 ERA)

Lucas Sims has been okay in his 5 big league starts this year, as seen in his 4.13 ERA. FIP doesn’t love him – his FIP is 5.17 – because he hasn’t struck out many batters (4.76 K/9). It was a different story in the minors, though, where he has struck out 10 batters per 9 innings in the last two seasons. If he can repeat that in the majors, he should only get better.

Aaron Nola, meanwhile, has a near insurmountable task: making the Phillies watchable every 5th game. He was one of baseball’s best pitchers in July, when he held batters to a .192 average and kept his ERA at 1.32. His last 2 starts have been rough, however, as he’s allowed a combined 12 runs in 11.1 innings.

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., R.A. Dickey (4.06) vs. Mark Leiter, Jr. (3.86)

In just under 100 innings thrown against them, Dickey has a 2.76 ERA against the Phillies in his career. What makes that even more impressive is that some of those starts came in their better days. That success continued this season: in 2 starts against the Phils, he’s allowed a total of 1 earned run and struck out 16 batters in 14 innings. They don’t show signs of figuring the plucky knuckleballer out.

Leiter has been fine at controlling run-scoring this year, as his 3.86 ERA will attest to, but his real value has come from being able to make a spot start or long relief appearance, as needed. His most memorable appearances were back-to-back relief outings that came five days apart in which he threw a combined 9.1 innings and struck out 16 batters, allowing 1 earned run on a solo homerun. Really, the Phillies should announce a different starter this day and bring in Leiter as a last-minute bit of sleight of hand.

Wednesday, 1:05 p.m., Julio Teheran (4.90 ERA) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (4.36 ERA)

It may sound obvious, but Teheran is a pitcher whose success closely follows his ability to control baseball’s three true outcomes— strikeouts, walks, and homeruns. This season, he’s walking batters at the second-highest rate in his career (3.35 BB/9) and allowing homeruns at the second-highest rate as well (1.73 HR/9). It follows that his ERA has ballooned to 4.90, well above his career 3.62 mark. Most of his walks come against lefties (43 compared to 13 against right-handed batters), but he allows homers at a similar rate against batters from both sides of the plate. It would not be terrible for the home team if he were to put a few guys on in front of a player who reached 10 career homeruns faster than anyone else in history, for example.

Every time I write about Eickhoff, he does the opposite of what I say should happen. I spent months saying he’s the team’s most consistent starter whose continued productivity was all but guaranteed, only to see his May ERA at 6.08 and his June ERA reach 5.49. When I wrote that a mechanical adjustment would have him back on track, it didn’t help things right away. When I pulled up video of the starts he’d made over the last year and thought I’d found a correlation between his finish and his game outcomes, things got better without him changing anything. With that in mind: he definitely won’t throw a perfect game on Wednesday.

Fortunately, I don’t matter much, and he’s sneakily been back to allowing fewer runs in the second half. His July ERA (3.27) and August ERA (3.62) are more in keeping with what you’d expect from him, but he’s still allowing too many men to reach base— he hasn’t had a month with a WHIP below 1.3 since April. Maybe his career-high .324 BABIP will regress toward his career average of .291, but he’s still walking 9.2% of batters faced, which is a higher rate than it’s been in his career thus far.

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