The Philadelphia Phillies may have caught a huge break yesterday when Milwaukee Brewers superstar, Christian Yelich, fouled a ball off of his kneecap. Yelich broke his kneecap on the play, and he will miss the rest of the regular season and playoffs. The reason that this bodes well for Philly is that the Phillies were chasing the Brewers for the second wild card in the National League, and with Yelich out of the picture, you can expect the Brewers to fade fast.
The Phillies still have to find a way to catch either the Washington Nationals or the Chicago Cubs to make the playoffs, but things definitely got easier with the Brewers losing their best player. Entering play tonight, the Phillies are two games back of the stagnant Chicago Cubs and four and a half games back of the Washington Nationals in the NL wild card race.
The Phillies host the Atlanta Braves tonight in game three of a four-game series with their division rivals. While the Phillies are very much in the thick of the wild card race, the Braves have the NL East Division title all but wrapped up at this point. The Braves have a whopping fourteen game lead over the third-place Phillies and a very comfortable nine and a half-game lead over the second-place Nationals.
The Phillies are just 6-4 during the month of September and need to find a way to win at least one of these next two games against Atlanta. Philly has a brutal schedule the rest of the way out as they face the Boston Red Sox, the Braves again, the Cleveland Indians, and the Washington Nationals. It won’t be easy, to say the least, but Philly still has a shot at salvaging this season.
For the Braves, they are in cruise control as they are 7-2 in September and should coast to the division title. The Braves do have something to play for tonight though as they are four games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the National League, and the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it. You can expect Atlanta to continue to play hard until the playoff seeds are set.
Starting for the Braves is Dallas Keuchel (7-5 3.47 ERA), and for the Phillies it is Zach Eflin (8-11 4.31 ERA). The game total over-under is set at ten runs. The Braves are -129 road favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 PM PST from Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia.
If the Phillies don’t find a way to backdoor into the playoffs this year, this will most certainly go down as a wasted season. When the Phillies went out and added superstar players in the offseason like Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and JT Realmuto, they expected to win now. And that just hasn’t been the case most of the year as this team has really struggled to stay consistent. Now with their season on the line, they must find a way to string together some wins in the next couple of weeks. They will start that push tonight with Zach Eflin on the mound.
Eflin has bounced around between the bullpen and the starting rotation this year, with most of his appearances coming as a starter. He got sent to the bullpen after a disastrous month of July that saw him go 0-4 in five starts with an ERA of 11.88. He found himself while pitching out of the pen and was brought back into the starting rotation a couple of weeks later and has pitched much better since returning to the starting mound.
The straw that broke the camels back that sent him to the bullpen? It was a start against these Atlanta Braves where he got pounded for ten runs in just two and two-thirds of an inning pitched. Despite being a decent pitcher for much of the season, the Phillies just seem to lose a lot when Eflin pitches. In his twenty-eight appearances this year, the Phillies are 9-19. That includes losing eleven out of his last thirteen appearances.
Dallas Keuchel was just what was missing from this Braves team early in the year. The Braves managed to snag Keuchel from the couch at the midway point of the season, and he has brought a solid arm and lots of veteran leadership to a team that badly needed it. Much the opposite of Eflin, the Braves just seem to win when Dallas pitches. Atlanta has won five straight games where Keuchel started, and six out of the last seven.
Keuchel was a little bit shaky in his first couple of starts back after missing so much time but has really found his groove lately as his ERA has been in the low three-run range the last two months. He has made one start against the Phillies this year and was stellar. In that one, he pitched seven innings of two runs ball, allowing just five hits. Keuchel has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last five starts and has only given up a total of three earned runs during that span.
This number surprises me. Eflin has struggled a lot of the year and has been awful against the Braves. And when you look at what Keuchel has been doing in the last month, he looks a lot like the guy that won a CY Young Award in 2015. Keuchel has done a great job of pitching to contact, forcing ground balls, and getting deep into games. Dallas has pitched into the sixth inning or later in thirteen of his last fourteen starts.
I think the Braves should be prohibitive favorites tonight and seeing the number at just -129 seems like a great value spot. The Phillies are much better at home than they are on the road, but when you look at the Braves road record, they are the best road team in the National League at 43-28. So, I won’t allow the venue to scare me off of the fact that the Braves are the far superior team in this matchup, with the much better starter on the mound.
So, I will lay a little wood this afternoon and back the Atlanta Braves as I feel they are being undervalued. Give me the Atlanta Braves laying -129 tonight in game three from Philadelphia!