Why are Phillies so much better than Braves in October?

PHILADELPHIA — The Braves were better than everybody for months. In the past four games, they couldn’t be better than the Phillies even twice. Again.

Toss aside the regular season when the Braves looked like the mightiest club in recent memory. Toss aside the head-to-head results, like how the Braves were 8-5 against the Phillies. Toss aside September, when the Braves came to Philadelphia and won three of four games to clinch the division.

This time of year, all that is irrelevant. The season resets this month. And for the second consecutive year, the Braves, after finishing 14 games better than the Phillies in the National League East, weren’t better than them when it mattered.

They lost 3-1 in Game 4 on Thursday, getting eliminated by the Phillies in the NL Division Series just as they were a year ago. They again failed to be better than the team they were better than.

Last year’s NLDS could be chalked up to baseball’s randomness and a team getting hot. Twice in a row? There’s substance to it. The Phillies are better when it truly counts. Their stars shine on this stage, while the Braves’ big boppers largely disappeared.

The Braves finished a combined 28 games better than the Phillies over the past two regular seasons. They were 10-6 at Citizens Bank Park over that time, including 5-1 this year, but 0-4 in the past two postseasons (getting outscored 30-7 in those games). Since 2018, when the Braves’ six-year run atop the NL East began, they’ve had a winning record against the Phillies in five seasons.

Credit: Sarah K. Spencer/AJC

Why have the Phillies suddenly become a daunting matchup for the Braves in October?

“I don’t know,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I mean, that’s a good question. I wish I had the secret sauce for that. Like I said, this is an experienced, really good club. I mean, I feel like last year all of a sudden, they got everybody healthy. And they have big-time players on this team. Yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Third baseman Austin Riley: “That’s a good question; I’m trying to figure it out myself. Obviously, they have a lot of good players over there. I feel like a lot of it has to do with this environment here in Philly. They feed off those fans and how loud it gets and those bigger moments. They’re a good ballclub.”

The Dodgers likewise have been trounced by lesser division rivals in consecutive seasons, but it was the Padres last year and the Diamondbacks this week. The Phillies, in both matchups with the Braves, have looked like the team that’s dominated the NL East and won a championship as recently as two years ago.

The Phillies’ highest-paid hitters – Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Nick Castellanos – were magnificent in this series. Castellanos outhomered the Braves, 4-3, by himself. In fact, the three leading Phillies combined for nine homers and 11 extra-base hits. The Braves had four extra-base hits total.

“I don’t know,” first baseman Matt Olson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when asked what changes when the Braves play the Phillies in the postseason. “I think if I knew that answer, we might be in a different spot right now. They have those big power arms. The playoffs with some days off, they’re able to bring them out and have them go max effort. Aside from that, there’s not a big difference between the postseason and the regular-season games. Just two bad series against them these past two years.”

The AJC followed by asking Olson if the team felt it had a better idea of how to approach the Phillies after last season’s experience.

“I think we had a great idea of what they were and what they were going to try to do to us,” he said. “We just couldn’t execute. Our pitching staff did pretty well this series. Our lineup didn’t do what we’d done all season. We couldn’t get it going aside from a few big hits. It wasn’t a lack of preparation. It wasn’t a lack of focus or intensity.”

Phillies pitching mostly silenced the Braves’ vaunted offense. No. 3 starter Ranger Suarez did it twice. Olson mentioned the bullpen, which is full of relievers with nasty stuff who stifled the Braves at about every turn besides Game 2.

It makes one wonder about how the Braves will reflect this winter. Some truly felt this could’ve been the best team in franchise history. Yet it ended the same way by the same opponent. The same opponent who transforms itself with the calendar. The same opponent that seems to coast through six months then hit the gas pedal in the playoffs.

The perplexing question: How do the Braves become better than a team they’ve been better than? It’s among the issues facing them facing them this offseason.

Again.

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