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NL East Division position comparison: third base

My position-by-position evaluation of the Philadelphia Phillies and their rivals in the National League East Division moves today to the hot corner. In recent decades, the likes of Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, David Wright, and Anthony Rendon played third base in the division.

A year ago, the position was manned for those NL East clubs by Maikel Franco, Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier, Brian Anderson, and Rendon. Incredibly, only Anderson remains, and he may not end up playing there regularly for Miami in the coming season.

So far I’ve covered first base, second base, and shortstop. The Philadelphia Phillies finished third in each of those rankings. They are once again placed here in that middle-of-the road spot. But the position is so muddled at the moment that they could be at the top or bottom of these rankings by season’s end.

Tomorrow will see a move behind the plate to cover the division’s catchers. Next week, I’ll begin by working across the outfield, followed by separate pieces covering each team’s projected starting pitching rotation, bench, bullpen, and managers.

If it appears as though any particular position is unsettled or that a team may use a platoon situation, any potential starting players will be covered.

Once this evaluation process is complete, fans should have a better idea of where the Phillies actually stand entering spring training. Pitchers and catchers are due to begin reporting to Clearwater, Florida on February 11.

Let’s take a look now at what is easily the single most volatile, unpredictable position in the division for the upcoming 2020 campaign.

NL EAST – 2020 THIRD BASE RANKINGS

1) Jeff McNeil, New York Mets: Is McNeil a left fielder, where he played in 71 games a year ago? Is he a right fielder, where he played 42 times? How about maybe a second baseman, where he appeared in 37 games in 2019? Or will he finally spend most of his time at one position, third base, where he appeared in 31 games and made 16 starts for the Mets last season? Your guess is as good as mine, which may be as good as new Mets manager Luis Rojas as well. McNeil, who turns 28 in early April, is penciled-in as the starting third baseman. Of all the question marks at the position in the NL East, one thing is certain at this point – McNeil is the most proven, effective hitter of the bunch. He slashed .318/.384/.531 with 23 homers, 38 doubles, 75 RBIs, and 83 runs scored while making the National League All-Star team in 2019. The Mets could also go with J.D. Davis, who played in 31 games and made 27 starts, and Jed Lowrie, a veteran returning from injury, at times in the coming season.

2) Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins: Is Anderson a right fielder, where he made 55 starts and played extremely well in 2019? Is he a third baseman, where he made 64 starts and appeared in 67 games? He will turn 27 in mid-May, and could end up bouncing back and forth between the two positions once again in 2020. Anderson slashed .261/.342/.468 with 20 homers, 33 doubles, 66 RBIs, and 55 runs scored. If the Fish choose to play him regularly in right field, then any of Jon Berti, Jonathan Villar, or Miguel Rojas could see time at third base. This could end up as another position at which the Marlins rank at the bottom of the division by the end of the season. However, Anderson’s talent and potential, should he settle in at third base, make this speculative ranking valid.

3) Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies: Stop me if you’ve read this type of thing already in this positional evaluation piece. Is Kingery a center fielder, where he made 57 starts and played in 65 games a year ago? Is he a shortstop, where he played in 119 games just two seasons ago and another 18 games last year? How about a second baseman, clearly his best defensive position, but where he has played in just 14 big-league games to this point? The Phillies version of a Swiss army knife to this point in his career, Kingery has also played 14 games in left field, four in right field, and even pitched once. For the 2020 season during which he will turn 26 years of age in late April, Kingery enters spring training penciled-in as the third baseman, and this could prove a generous ranking. He played 41 games and made 37 starts at third base in 2019, and overall did not play badly on defense. Kingery raised his slash line from the .226/.267/.338 he put up during his rookie campaign to .258/.315/.474 a year ago. In just 16 more plate appearances he banged 11 more homers and doubles, drove in 20 more runs, and stole five more bases. Does he have another level to his game? At this point, Kingery could go either way. He could also continue to get bounced around the field by the Phillies, whose top offensive prospect, Alec Bohm, plays third base and should be ready for a shot at some point during the 2020 campaign. There is also a possibility that new manager Joe Girardi decides to go with Kingery at second base, flipping Jean Segura to third.

4) Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals: Kieboom has been one of the Nationals top prospects since they made him their first round pick at 28th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. Kieboom broke into the big-leagues a year ago under emergency circumstances, called up from Triple-A to play shortstop in late-April and early-May when Trea Turner suffered an early-season injury. He didn’t play well defensively, making four errors while handling 40 chances across 10 games. He was also over-matched at the plate, slashing just .128/.209/.282 over 43 plate appearances. Sent back to the minors, he never received a recall. Still, Kieboom earned a World Series ring when the Nationals ultimately won it all. His Triple-A performance at Fresno continued to demonstrate his true ability. There he slashed .303/.409/.493 with 43 extra-base hits. Kieboom is considered Washington’s top prospect, and enters spring training prepared to try and take over the everyday job left vacant by the departure of Rendon to free agency. He could emerge as a leading NL Rookie of the Year contender. However, if he can’t handle the job, veterans Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick could see time here.

5) Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves: Who’s on third? It is a question that fans of every single team in the NL East might legitimately be asking themselves at this stage. Donaldson left via free agency, leaving a big hole in the Braves lineup. Camargo who appeared in 114 games and made 105 starts for a division-winning Atlanta club in 2018 at third base, is penciled-in as the starter for now. He played in 18 games, making nine starts, at third base for Atlanta in 2019 during a season in which he made appearances at five different positions. Camargo plays the fulls season at age 26. He owns a .269/.328/.438 career big-league slash line over parts of three seasons. Atlanta also has Austin Riley, formerly one of their top prospects, on the roster. During his rookie campaign last season, Riley played mostly left field, producing 18 homers, 49 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in just 297 plate appearances. However, he also hit just .226 and struck out 108 times. Riley played in five games at the hot corner, one of four different positions at which he was used.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

How do the Phillies match-up with the Braves?

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Following a half-decade of losing baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies are trying desperately to build their roster back to a truly competitive level.

Ownership opened their wallets this past off-season, shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the starting lineup.
Last summer, the Phillies surprised many by taking and holding first place in the National League East Division for much of the summer. However, the club eventually collapsed over the final seven weeks of the season to finish in third place, once again with a losing record.
Bolting past the Phillies were the Atlanta Braves, who themselves were coming off a string of losing campaigns. Heading into the 2018 season, the Braves had suffered through four consecutive losing seasons. From 2015-17, Atlanta never finished closer than 23 games to the top of the division.
So, both the Phillies and Braves were awful for years coming into the 2018 season. But in the end, the Braves won a division crown, only their second since 2005. The Phillies missed the postseason for a seventh consecutive season.
There was a surge in excitement around the Phillies after the big cash outlay this past off-season. And as the 2019 season got underway at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies swept the Braves, outscoring their rivals by 23-11 over three late-March games and looking for all the world like the better ball club.
Flash forward four months, and things could not look any different. The two teams have met seven times since that opening series, with Atlanta winning five of those. Over the last three meetings, the Braves have now outscored the Phillies by a 30-10 margin.
The standings reflect this change as well. The Phillies early season lead in the division evaporated in a cloud of injuries, poor pitching, and inconsistent offensive production. Meanwhile, the Braves caught fire and again bolted to the top.
After Friday night’s 9-2 victory, Atlanta now leads the Washington Nationals by 5.5 games in the NL East standings, with the Phillies now 6.5 games back. And the fact is, the talent gap appears grimly wider than that between the two teams.
An examination of the two starting lineups, both now and projected over the coming seasons, reveals a major challenge ahead for the Phillies in trying to catch and stay with the Braves.

FIRST BASE

Harper and Hoskins give the Phillies two legitimate long term weapons. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)
Freddie Freeman (29) v. Rhys Hoskins (26): The Phillies have a three-year age edge here. But it’s not as if Freeman is going to be old over the next few years. As he ages into his early-30’s, Freeman is likely to remain an All-Star caliber run producer. Hoskins is a good run producer. Freeman is elite. Neither is a great defender. Unless there is some leap forward from Hoskins, this match-up is likely to favor the Braves for the next 3-4 seasons. But this is not a position where the Phillies need a change.
Advantage: Braves

SECOND BASE

Ozzie Albies (22) v. Cesar Hernandez (29): The Braves smartly signed Albies to an extremely club-friendly contract that will keep him with Atlanta through the 2025 season, with two more club option years. Meanwhile, Hernandez is due to become a free agent following the 2020 season. This could well be his last year with the Phillies, possibly his last week in red pinstripes if dealt before the deadline. The real future match-up is with 25-year-old Scott Kingery, who should be the future at second base for the Phillies. Kingery has a chance to be much more impactful, and would make this an “even” push for years to come. All three are solid defenders.
Advantage: Braves now, but ‘Even’ over the longer term

SHORTSTOP

Dansby Swanson (25) v. Jean Segura (29): This is a reversal of the Freeman-Hoskins situation, age-wise, with the Phillies having the veteran who will be aging into his 30’s. Swanson likely has at least three more seasons in Atlanta before he can become a free agent. Segura has a Phillies contract through those same three years, with a club option for one more. Segura is a slightly better hitter, but Swanson has improved his approach this year and may still have more upside to come. Defense is an important part of the shortstop position, and there Segura has it all over Swanson. This is a Phillies advantage, but just as with the first base edge to the Braves, it is not a position where Atlanta needs to be overly concerned about the difference in talent.
Advantage: Phillies

THIRD BASE

Phillies desperately need top prospect Bohm to become truly impactful to keep pace with Braves young talent. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Josh Donaldson (33) v. Maikel Franco (26): This is an extremely interesting match-up, because the two players currently occupying the positions are not likely to be with either team over the next few seasons. Donaldson is on a one-year contract, and the Braves have his heir apparent in-house with Austin Riley, who they have mostly played out of position in left field for now. Franco cannot be a free agent until after the 2021 season. However, the club’s top prospect, Alec Bohm, could be ready for a full big-league shot as soon as next season. Franco is a better defender right now, Donaldson a more impactful hitter. This season, I would prefer the 2015 AL MVP Donaldson. Longer term, it’s hard to know what Riley and Bohm will become. But Riley was considered a strong prospect as well, and has 16 home runs in just 243 plate appearances as a 22-year-old rookie. So even with the Phillies getting better at the position by bringing up their top prospect, they only remain a likely ‘push’ at this position over the long term.
Advantage: Braves now, but ‘Even’ over the longer term

LEFT FIELD

Austin Riley (22) v. Andrew McCutchen (32): There is no way to gauge these two as a fair comparison, since ‘Cutch’ is out for the season following knee surgery and Riley will not be in left field longer term, probably not beyond this season. Right now, with Jay Bruce (32) on the IL as well, the Phillies have a revolving door in left field, mostly using some combination of Nick Williams (25) and Adam Haseley (23), either of whom it would be difficult to define a future role for. For the Braves, the outfield is where you can begin to see a scary future developing for the Phillies to compete. A future Atlanta configuration would well see Acuna (see below) flip over here to left, with their top two prospects taking over in center and right. Those would be a pair of 20-year-olds in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, both of whom are tearing up the minors and could arrive next summer. McCutchen, assuming health, can keep the Phillies competitive here for a few years.
Advantage: Braves now, ‘Even’ over next 2-3 years, Atlanta beyond that

CENTER FIELD

Moniak’s recent development has been encouraging. If he can become a true big-league talent, the Phillies job keeping pace becomes much easier. (Cheryl Purcell)
Ronald Acuna Jr.(21) v. Scott Kingery (25): Another position where these two are not likely to be the longer term answers for either club. That is not indictment on either. Kingery should be headed to second base to become the Phillies starter at the keystone for years to come. And Acuna is likely to slide over the left, making way for Pache, who is considered an elite defender. The real question will be, who is going to become the Phillies long-term center fielder? Is it Haseley? 2016 top overall draft pick Mickey Moniak? Frankly, if the answer isn’t either one of these two players, that will be a massive indictment of the organization. Again, Moniak was the first overall pick in the draft. Haseley was selected at 8th overall just a year later. Right now, Acuna, who was the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year and one of the game’s brightest young stars,
Advantage: Braves

RIGHT FIELD

Nick Markakis (35) v. Bryce Harper (26): Finally, a position where the Phillies have a clear advantage. Almost a decade younger and just entering the prime of his career, Harper is both a more impactful run producer and a better defender at this stage of their careers. However, Markakis is no slouch for now. The three-time Gold Glover was an NL All-Star as recently as a year ago. He is working on a one-year contract with a team option for next season. He could very well find that option exercised as the Braves give Pache and/or Waters most of another year to develop more fully. As well all know, Harper will be with the Phillies for a long time to come. He is likely to keep this a Phillies advantage position for at least the next 3-4 years, but just how big an advanage will depend on the development of the Braves youngsters after Markakis departs.
Advantage: Phillies

CATCHER

Brian McCann (35) & Tyler Flowers (33) v. J.T. Realmuto (28): By almost every measurement, Realmuto is the best defensive catcher in the game today. He is also in his prime. The Phillies gave up a major package in order to obtain him from the Marlins. He is signed only through next season, and there is no doubt that the Phillies must get an extension with him for at least three more years at some soon point. The McCann (LH) and Flowers (RH) platoon is very effective for Atlanta in the shorter term. They have combined this year for 18 home runs and 54 RBIs. The Braves addressed their lack of a long-term answer by selecting Shea Langeliers at 9th overall in last month’s MLB Draft. This is a Phillies advantage due to Realmuto’s elite defense. But again, they must extend his deal, and the Phillies need a better backup than Andrew Knapp.
Advantage: Phillies
For the Phillies, the three key youngsters as they move into the 2020’s and try to compete with Atlanta will be Bohm, Moniak, and Haseley. If two of those three youngsters become truly impactful big-league ball player, the Phillies should be fine. If only one, it makes it tough. If none develop as hoped, then the Phillies will have an uphill battle.
None of this even takes into account the situation on the mound, where the Braves have strong, young, highly-rated youngsters already in the big-leagues and where they have a number of well regarded prospects on the way. The Phillies really need someone such as Spencer Howard to develop fully, and are probably going to have to spend soon in free agency for a top-level arm or two.

Braves bats pound Pivetta as rookie hurler shuts down the Phillies

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Rookie righty Bryse Wilson largely shut down the Phillies bats

The first-place Atlanta Braves (51-36) used a big six-run 6th inning to pull away from the visiting Philadelphia Phillies (45-41) and register a 9-2 win on Wednesday night at SunTrust Park.

With the win, the Braves pushed their lead in the National League East Division standings back out to 5.5 games (five in the loss column) over the second place Phillies, who are now just a half-game ahead of the third place Washington Nationals. The Phillies have not been lower than second place in the division standings all season.
The two teams were battling in a tough 3-2 game after the first 5 1/2 innings, with all of the runs coming via the long ball. Josh Donaldson ripped his 16th homer of the season in the bottom of the 4th inning, a three-run shot off Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, to open the scoring.
In the top of the 6th, Bryce Harper got the Phillies back within a run by blasting his 16th homer. For the Phillies big free agent signing, it was the 200th home run of his big-league career as well as his 1,000th career hit.

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There was one bright spot tonight. Bryce Harper’s 16th home run of the season was the 200th of his big-league career, as well as career hit 1,000.

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The tight score didn’t last long, as the Braves knocked Pivetta out of the game with their crooked inning in the bottom of the frame. Two more homers, both coming with two outs, did most of the damage. The first came off the bat of rookie left fielder Austin Riley to make it 6-2 and drive Pivetta from the game. It was Riley’s 15th home run in just 44 games since his May 15 promotion from the minors.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and brought in Juan Nicasio. The right-hander has been inconsistent all season, and he was just bad in this one. Ozzie Albies and Tyler Flowers greeted him with back-to-back doubles to push the Atlanta lead out to 7-2. Then Matt Joyce, pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Bryse Wilson, drilled a Nicasio four-seam fastball out deep to right field for his third homer of the year to put the final runs on the board.
For Pivetta, this was a disheartening fourth consecutive poor outing. Over 23.1 innings in those four starts, Pivetta has given up 20 runs (19 earned) on 29 hits, including nine home runs. He was reached for at least two home runs in each of those four games.
The two clubs have now split the first two games of this series. If the Phillies want to win a series, they are going to have to find a way to score runs off one of the toughest starting pitchers in the game on Independence Day in Mike Soroka. They put at least five runs on the board in six of seven games coming into tonight. That offense has to show up on Thursday.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCE

PHILLIES – Pivetta: (Loss 4-3), 5.2 IP, 5 hits, 6 runs (5 earned), 1 walk, 4 strikeouts. 86 pitches, 56 for strikes.
BRAVES – Wilson: (Win 1-0), 6 IP, 5 hits, 2 earned, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. 86 pitches, 60 for strikes.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME: BRYCE WILSON

The home run by Harper was the only real mistake made by the 21-year-old rookie right-hander who was making just his third big-league start. The Phillies beat him up back on March 30 in what was his MLB debut. This time around he showed why he is considered one of the top prospects in one of the most respected organizations in the game.

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Braves walkoff Phillies in series opener at SunTrust Park

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Brian McCann mobbed at home plate after game-winning hit

The Atlanta Braves (41-29) showed a ton of heart, taking the opening game of a key road series by a 9-8 score on Friday night over the visiting Philadelphia Phillies (38-31) at SunTrust Park.

The Phillies led almost the entire night, and appeared to be on their way to an exhilarating victory. But the Braves never surrendered, battling back every time the Phillies tried to open their lead wider.
In the end, it came down to Atlanta having to overcome a two-run deficit with the Phillies closer on the mound in the bottom of the 9th inning. A closer who was celebrating his 30th birthday, and who hadn’t blown a save opportunity since last May.
The Phillies got on the board first, stringing together three consecutive base hits in the top of the 2nd inning from Jay BruceScott Kingery, and Sean Rodriguez against Atlanta starter Max Fried. But in the bottom of the frame, the Braves got that one right back when Josh Donaldson led off with a solo home run.
The tie didn’t last for long. Bryce Harper ripped his 12th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the top of the 3rd inning, to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. Kingery made it 4-1 when he led off the top of the 4th with a solo homer, his 8th of the season.

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Harper’s homer is his 12th of the season. He’s an equal opportunity blaster: six vs lefties, six vs righties.

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In the top of the 5th, some wildness from Fried with two outs allowed the Phillies to get another run. After he had retired the first two Phillies batters,the Braves southpaw yielded a base hit to J.T. Realmuto and then walked Rhys Hoskins. Fried then threw two wild pitches, with Realmuto moving to third on the first one and scoring on the second. The run made it a 5-1 lead for the visitors.
Freddie Freeman led off the bottom of the 5th with his 19th homer of the year to make it a 5-2 ball game. But the Braves defense would let them down big-time in the top of the 6th inning. With two outs, second baseman Ozzie Albies‘ error allowed Realmuto to reach base. He was followed by Hoskins, who lined a missile over the dead-center field wall. The 15th home run of the season for the Phillies first baseman pushed the lead back out to a 7-2 margin.
The Braves came right back with two of their own in the home half of the 7th. Brian McCann cranked the third leadoff homer of the night for the hosts to cut their deficit down to 7-3. Then with two outs, Ronald Acuna doubled, Dansby Swanson walked, and that was all for Phillies starter Nick Pivetta.
The right-hander looked strong for much of the night against a tough lineup. He allowed four earned runs, three of those scoring on the leadoff home runs. Pivetta struck out six and walked two in making a career-high 116 pitches.
Gabe Kapler sent to his bullpen for Vince Velasquez, and the recently converted starter immediately surrendered an RBI single to Freeman, cutting the Phillies lead to 7-4. But with the tying run at the plate, Velasquez struck out Donaldson to end the threat.
Kingery led off the top of the 8th with a double for his third hit of the ball game. He was bunted over to third by Rodriguez and then raced home to score on a deep RBI sacrifice fly by Cesar Hernandez, and the Phillies lead was back out to 8-4.
The Braves kept coming in the bottom of the 8th, however. Jose Alvarez walked Nick Markakis to lead off the frame. Markakis moved to second on a soft ground out by McCann, then scored on a base hit by Albies to make it 8-5.

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Ozzie Albies stays hot and drives home Nick Markakis with an RBI single. The @Braves are back within three in the eighth inning.

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Braves skipper Brian Snitker then sent up Charlie Culberson to pinch-hit, and Culberson delivered with a triple to the deep right field corner. Albies raced home, and the relentless Braves had cut the deficit to 8-6.
Kapler went to his closer, Hector Neris in the bottom of the 9th inning to try and close it out. Celebrating his 30th birthday and not having blown a save opportunity since last May 11, Neris gave up a lead single to Swanson. Atlanta would bring the tying run to the plate with their 3-4-5 hitters due up.
Freeman went up 3-0 in the count, but Neris battled back to strike out the Braves most dangerous hitter for the first out. Donaldson then grounded to third for the second out. Neris then walked Markakis on four pitches, and Atlanta had the winning run at the plate in the form of rookie Austin Riley.
Riley laced a line drive double to left to score Swanson and make it an 8-7 ball game. The ball took a wild bounce on Jay Bruce, but the Phillies left fielder made a nice play to keep the tying run at third base.
With runners at second and third and two outs, one of the great Phillies killers of the last decade stepped to the plate in McCann. The Braves catcher would keep that title, dropping a 2-2 base hit into left-center, scoring Markakis with the tying run and Riley with the game-winner.

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Down 2 going to the bottom of the 9th…

The @Braves really wanted that 8th straight win.

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In the end, the bullpen surrendered five runs on six hits over the final 2.1 innings. Neris blew his first save after 17 straight successful conversions. There is no other way to frame it than to call this one an absolutely crushing, deflating, demoralizing loss for the Phillies. They have now dropped nine of their last 14 games while the Braves won their ninth straight to open up a 2.5 game lead in the division.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCE

PHILLIES – Nick Pivetta: 6.2 IP, 8 hits (3 homers), 4 earned, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts. 116 pitches, 80 for strikes.
BRAVES – Max Fried: 4.2 IP, 7 hits (2 homers), 5 earned, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts. 98 pitches, 61 for strikes.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME: BRIAN MCCANN

The Braves backstop went 3-5 with a home run and the game-winning, two-run walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th inning. The homer was his 23rd against the Phillies, more than any other opponent over his 15-year big-league career. The two RBIs on his walkoff base hit gave him exactly 1,000 on his career.

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Phillies visit Braves for a June 2019 first-place showdown series

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Phillies visit SunTrust Park for big series with Braves

The Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) sat alone at the top of the National League East Division standings for seven straight weeks, covering every day from April 25 through last weekend.

Losses in eight of their last 13 games, including three of their four games so far this week, opened the door for the Atlanta Braves (40-29) to make a move.
The Braves took full advantage, winning 10 of their last 12 to surge past the Phillies and into first place in the division. Atlanta is now riding a seven-game winning streak.
The two rivals will meet for the second time this year over the weekend, and the NL East Division lead will be directly on the line. The site will be SunTrust Park in Atlanta this time, after the Phillies swept the Braves out of Citizens Bank Park in the season’s very first series back in late March.
The Braves have performed far better statistically in the 2019 season. Their 5.17 runs-per-game ranks fifth in the National League, while the Phillies 4.87 is the league’s seventh-ranked mark. At the plate, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in OPS (4-9), home runs (5-11), and stolen bases (8-15) in the NL.

On the mound among the 15 NL teams, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in batting average against (7-13) and OPS against (9-13), though Phillies hurlers have a slightly better ERA.
The Phillies just got reliever Edubray Ramos back from the Injured List, and hope to have reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Roman Quinn back for this series.
This is an early gut-check for the Phillies. Struggling for the last couple of weeks, they now look up in the standings at their weekend hosts. They will have to listen to Braves fans doing the obnoxious ‘Tomahawk Chop’ any time the home team does anything positive. How the Phillies respond to this challenge over the next three days will reveal much about their own collective character.

ATLANTA BRAVES

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Freddie Freeman: The 10-year veteran first baseman is well on his way to a fourth NL All-Star nod, slashing .311/.401/.592 and leading the Braves with 18 homers, 37 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs, and 49 runs scored.
Nick Markakis: 35-year-old, 14-year big-league veteran right fielder is slashing .276/.368/.431 with 35 RBIs. He is second on the club with 43 runs scored.
Ronald Acuna Jr. The 21-year-old center fielder was last year’s NL Rookie of the Year and is not suffering a sophomore slump. He is slashing .285/.365/.493 and is second on the team with 15 homers and 45 RBIs and leads them with nine steals.
Dansby Swanson: 25-year-old shortstop has broken out with 13 homers, 27 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 42 runs scored, and six stolen bases.
Ozzie Albies: 22-year-old second baseman has 10 homers, 26 extra-base hits, 41 runs scored, and five steals.
Austin Riley: The NL’s Rookie of the Month for May, the 22-year-old rookie left fielder is hitting .290 with a .617 slugging percentage and has 10 homers and 29 RBIs even though he wasn’t called up until May 15.
Brian McCann: 35-year-old, 15-year big-league veteran catcher is the lefty side of an almost straight platoon. He is hitting .272 with five homers and 24 RBIs in just 134 plate appearances.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Josh Donaldson: A 33-year-old, nine-year big-league veteran third baseman, Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the Braves as a free agent back in late November. The 2015 AL MVP while with the Toronto Blue Jays is a 3x American League All-Star and has a pair of Silver Slugger Awards on his mantlepiece.
Donaldson has been a bit of a disappointment with Atlanta, slashing just .236/.349/.419 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. After starring with the Blue Jays, Donaldson suffered through an injury-marred season a year ago and was dealt to the Cleveland Indians, helping the Tribe to the AL Central crown with a solid performance down the stretch.
There is every chance that Donaldson is simply a one-year rental for Atlanta, with Riley taking over at his own more natural position beginning next season. For now, having Donaldson bust out with anything resembling his former Toronto MVP form would be a major boost to the already dangerous Braves lineup.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

FRIDAY – Max Fried (25/L): 7-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 74 hits over 72 IP across 15 games (13 starts) with a 66/19 K:BB
SATURDAY – Sean Newcomb (26/L): 1-0, 2.59 ERA, 1.340 WHIP, 32 hits over 31.1 IP across 19 games (3 starts) with a 26/10 K:BB
SUNDAY – Mike Foltynewicz (27/R): 1-5, 6.02 ERA, 1.318 WHIP, 52 hits over 49.1 IP across nine starts with a 42/13 K:BB

KEY BENCH & BULLPEN PIECES

Tyler Flowers: splits the catching duties with McCann as the right-handed hitting half. Flowers has five homers and 11 extra-base hits over just 138 plate appearances.
Johan Camargo: 25-year-old was the Braves starting third baseman a year ago, but has become a utility player this year with the addition of Donaldson. He has been used at five different defensive positions and has 10 extra-base hits over 128 plate appearances.
Matt Joyce: 34-year-old, 12-year big-league veteran is a nice lefty bat off the bench with nine extra-base hits over just 75 plate appearances. He was a 2011 AL All-Star while with Tampa Bay.
Charlie Culberson: Utility man is slashing .354/.396/.625 over just 53 plate appearances with a half-dozen extra-base hits.
Luke Jackson: The 27-year-old righty has taken the Braves closer job and produced 10 saves with a 3.18 ERA and 1.235 WHIP. He has allowed 33 hits over 34 innings with a 49/9 K:BB ratio.
Josh Tomlin: Former starter with the Cleveland Indians, the 34-year-old, 10-year big-league veteran righty has allowed 31 hits over 35 innings across 23 appearances with a 22/3 K:BB.
A.J. Minter: Hard-throwing 25-year-old lefty could one day be the club’s closer. He was just activated earlier this week after spending nearly a month on the IL, and has struck out 18 over 13 innings this season.
Jacob Webb: 25-year-old right-hander has allowed 17 hits over 19.1 innings with a 20/10 K:BB.

THE SKIPPER

Brian Snitker is a 63-year-old who has been in the Braves organization in one role or another for more than four decades, starting as a player and winding through the minor league coaching ranks. He served as the Braves bullpen coach in the late-1980’s, and was their third base coach from 2007-13.
In May 2016, Snitker was named as the interim manager to replace Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired with the club in last place. Five months later he was named the full-time skipper and is now in his third full season at the helm. He guided the club to the NL East crown a year ago, losing in four games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NLDS.

THE BALLPARK

This is now the Braves third season playing at the ballpark, which is located in Cumberland, Cobb County, just 10 miles from the downtown Atlanta area. The ballpark is named for the local SunTrust Bank in a 25-year naming rights deal. A merger of that bank with BB&T will result in an eventual name change following this season.
SunTrust is billed as having the highest percentage of seats closer to the field than any ballpark in Major League Baseball. There is also air conditioning piped to every level of the ballpark to help during the hot Atlanta summer days.
There is a Monument Garden area displaying highlights of the franchise history. It is located in the concourse behind home plate, and features a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame living legend Hank Aaron, who played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves for 21 seasons.
Dimensions down the line are 335 feet to left, 325 feet to right. The power alleys are roughly 375 (RC) and 385 (LC) feet, out to a 400-foot dead-center field wall. In the 2019 season, SunTrust ranks behind only Coors Field in Denver, Colorado and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio in ESPN’s ‘Park Factors‘ as an offensive-leaning ballpark.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

FRIDAY: sunny and upper-70’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SATURDAY: partly cloudy and low-80’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SUNDAY: mostly sunny and mid-80s at 1:20 pm first pitch with light winds and just a 5% chance of rain
(Forecast supplied via The Weather Channel)