Phillies in enviable position to start big weekend in Atlanta – NBC Sports Philadelphia

ATLANTA — Who would have expected when the Braves left town on the first weekend of the season that the Phillies would have a nine-game lead in the NL East going into their next meeting?

The Phils arrived in Atlanta Thursday night with the biggest league leader in baseball. They’re without Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and JT Realmuto, but so are the Braves without Ronald Acuña Jr., Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider for extended absences.

The Phils are 10-6 since completing their challenging road trip to London, Boston and Baltimore, winning four of the five series and splitting the other.

The Braves finally seemed to be getting going in mid-June when they went 7-2 in three series against the Yankees, Rays and Tigers, but then lost six of 10 games against the Cardinals, White Sox, Pirates and Giants.

The Phillies won’t see Chris Sale or Charlie Morton at Truist Park this weekend. The pitching matchups are Aaron Nola vs. Max Fried in Friday’s series opener, Ranger Suarez vs. rookie Spencer Schwellenbach on Saturday and Michael Mercado vs. Reynaldo Lopez on Sunday.

With a nine-game lead, the only scenario this weekend that would hurt the Phillies is an Atlanta sweep. Any other outcome and they’ll return home for the final week before the All-Star break with an eight-, 10- or 12-game division lead.

“It’s like any series, you want to win a series, like we did here,” Rob Thomson said on July 4 after the Phillies wrapped up at Wrigley Field. “They’re a good team. They’ve got good pitching and I know everybody’s talking about how their offense hasn’t gotten going yet, but they’ve got a good team. We’ve got our hands full. Just go get them.”

The Phillies and Braves rank first and second in the majors in runs prevented, allowing averages of 3.63 and 3.66 per game, significantly lower than the league average of 4.37.

The Phils have been far superior offensively, leading the Braves by 71 runs. That’s the most surprising aspect of these first three months after an entire season of dominance from Atlanta’s 2023 lineup. So many players — Acuña, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Harris, Austin Riley, Sean Murphy, Orlando Arcia — have had career years they haven’t been able to repeat.

Thomson’s pre-series mentality is the same as when he flew to Chicago: Don’t wake up a struggling offense.

It’s fitting that Nola is on the mound Friday night, because he never seems to miss a Braves series. More than a full season of his career, 36 starts, has come against Atlanta. That includes wins in each of the last two NLDS. Nola is 17-11 with a 3.48 ERA overall against the Braves, though he has a 5.34 ERA in his last 10 starts at Truist Park.

Fried got past the first inning at Citizens Bank Park in his first start of the season, loading six and recording just two outs. His year began with 10 earned runs in five innings, but he has a 2.08 ERA in 14 starts since then.

The Phillies have won four of six games since Schwarber and Harper went on the injured list Friday. They’ve scored 2, 2, 2, 5, 6 and 7 runs in those games. Schwarber (groin) could be back as early as Tuesday, and Harper (hamstring) doesn’t appear far behind.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are hoping Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner remain as hot as they have been. Castellanos has hit .377 with six doubles, three homers and 13 RBI over the last 16 games.

Turner has gone 22-for-66 (.333) in 15 games since returning from the injured list with seven extra-base hits and 14 runs scored. His speed made a big difference in the series win in Chicago between an infield single, stolen base and tag-up on a fly ball to shallow center. He has hit just .200 with a .268 OBP against the Braves as a Phillie, so this weekend could be a good time for him to make an impact on the rivalry.

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