August 7, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) celebrates hitting a home run with right fielder Domonic Brown (9) against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies-Braves series preview-Which Phils show up in this series?


Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Three days ago, the Phillies weren’t left for dead by the fanbase, but they were pretty damn close. After they were swept in their home-opening series by Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers (who appear to be taking well to being the new villains of the MLB), bullpen issues, mediocre performances from the rotation, and continued expectations that the fast start from the offense was nothing more than a fluke, had the Phillies fanbase thinking that they were indeed in for the long season that many anticipated for the club in 2014. What a difference a weekend can make.

After Chase Utley‘s eighth inning blast helped the Phils to complete a sweep of the floundering (pun intended) Miami Marlins, the Phillies moved back to .500, sitting at 6-6 after 12 games. 6-6 isn’t anything to brag about, but it sure as hell is better than 3-6. And regardless of how poorly the Marlins have played of recent, the Phillies are hitting really well as a team (top 12 in the MLB in team runs, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage), the bullpen appears to be showing some signs of life, and they still have some really good arms in their rotation.

I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t think the Phillies offense is going to hit anywhere near the clip that they have come out of the gate hitting. While I really like what I have seen from B.J. Rosenberg and Mario Hollands, I’m still not keen on the Phillies bullpen as a whole. I don’t think that the Phillies are going to be a team that legitimately stays in the playoff race the entire Summer, but I hope I am wrong, and I’m willing to ride this out until I’m proven right.

With that said, if the Phillies want to make a serious run at the playoffs in 2014, they will have to do what they didn’t do in 2012 and 2013–win divisional games at home. After a sweep of the Marlins, the Phillies welcome in the division-leading Atlanta Braves tonight for a four-game set, with a chance to move to 7-0 in divisional play with a sweep.

Not only does the fourth game in the series make the sweep unlikely, but so does the bat of Freddie Freeman. For as hot as Chase Utley is for the Phillies, Freeman is just as hot for the Braves. Entering the series, Freeman is batting .442 with four homeruns and 10 RBIs. Not too shabby, for a player who might be the best all-around hitter in the National League.

Backing up Freeman, the Braves have the annual April MVP in Justin Upton, who is up to his usual tricks. After a slow finish to the 2013 season, Upton appears to have re-gained the All-Star form the he showed early on in his first season with the Braves last year, and in his time in Arizona, as he is batting .386 with four homeruns and eight RBI’s.

As well as the Phillies are hitting as a team, I think the fact that the Braves have two smoking hot hitters coming into this series, against a bullpen that is still questionable at best, gives them the advantage in the series. My expectation is for the Phillies to split this series, but if I had to go with one of the two to win the series, I’d give the Braves an edge. These starting pitching matchups also went a good way in swaying me towards the Braves having an edge in the series.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves tickets

Game one: Roberto Hernandez (1-0, 4.35 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

I’ve never been a huge fan of Ervin Santana, he was lights-out in his first outing of 2014, While I don’t expect either of the starters to go deep into the game, I trust the Braves bullpen more than the Phillies, especially considering how overworked the Phillies ‘pen has been so far.

Game two: Cliff Lee (2-1, 5.50 ERA) vs David Hale (0-0, 2.89 ERA)

Cliff Lee has never been the type of pitcher not to throw most of his pitches in the zone. He’s going to allow you to put the ball in play, and he’s going to work quickly. At the same time, mixing in some more balls, and strikes that are on the corners rather than over the plate. The Phillies could really benefit from Lee going deep into this one, and out-dueling Hale, who has been pretty solid so far.

Game three: A.J. Burnett (0-1, 3.94 ERA) vs Julio Teheran (1-1, 2.84 ERA)

Assuming Burnett is healthy enough to pitch Wednesday, he will get the ball for game three. Given that Burnett will have an ultrasound on his groin today, and David Buchanan was pulled from his Triple-A start after only one inning yesterday evening, I’m beginning to get the feeling that Burnett isn’t going to be on the mound Wednesday. Regardless the Phillies will be running into one of the best young arms in the game in Teheran, making a win less than likely.

Game four: Jonathan Pettibone (0-0, 1.84 ERA) vs Alex Wood (2-1, 1.89 ERA)

Wood is going to give up some hits, but so far this season has managed to keep many of those hits from turning into runs. Pettibone on the other hand, is going to keep the Phillies in the game, but expecting him to give up less than three runs or go longer than six innings, is likely wishful thinking. I view this as the swing game in the series, as it is certainly winnable, but will take a four or five run performance from the offense.

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies