The visitors looked well-run, getting contributions from everybody in the lineup. They play sound defense, from making routine plays to the occasional spectacular catch. It looked like a team prepping for a postseason run.
The home team looked directionless, unable to piece together anything with the bats and failing to convert key defensive plays. It appeared led by a manager low on answers that don’t include numbers. It looked like a team due wholesale changes in the winter despite hanging around the postseason bubble.
This was a more pivotal series for the Phillies, who trailed the National League East by 5 1/2 games coming in. Yet it’s the Braves who played with a sense of urgency, a desire to render the waning months of the Phillies’ season obsolete.
Now, the Phillies are very much in wild-card contention. But the past two series have indicated a sizable gap between the Braves and their rivals – one of 7 1/2 games, to be exact – that doesn’t bode well for the Phillies’ long-odds at winning the East. That the Braves have outscored the Phillies 74-34 in their last eight head-to-head matchups sums it up.
Every Brave in the starting lineup reached Saturday, sans Johan Camargo. Ender Inciarte was on base three times, including a two-run homer that opened the scoring in the second. It was the awaited break-out game for Inciarte, who’s struggled offensively since his return from a lumbar strain.
“I haven’t had the year I’ve wanted, but we still have a long way to go,” Inciarte said. “I feel like I can help the team. It felt great. My swing is getting better and I’m getting more confident. Hopefully I continue getting better.”
Ozzie Albies launched a grand slam. Ronald Acuna blasted his own two-run shot to center. Josh Donaldson had three hits and two RBIs. Freddie Freeman walked a career-high four times.
And Adam Duvall, who hit .132 with the Braves last season and was relegated to Triple-A this season before joining the team Saturday afternoon, homered to left in the fourth. It was Duvall's first home run with the Braves and part of a three-hit night.
“It feels good to get the bat on some balls and drive some runs in,” Duvall said. “Overall, 1-through-9, it was just impressive to be a part of. It’s pretty impressive what the guys did today.”
The Braves scored four in the second, seven in the third and two in the fourth. Zach Eflin was charged with 10 runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings. He received little help from his defense, which could’ve slowed the bleeding, but the outing surely won’t be featured on Eflin’s highlight reel.
On a day that began with bad news – that regulars Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson were headed for the injured list – the game was near flawless offensively. A crucial road trip with trade-deadline implications begins 2-0.
The score isn’t indicative of how competitive the game was. If there’s anything worth complaining about, the Braves’ pitching was not totally sufficient. Allowing seven runs is suboptimal, even in a game that was decided early.
Max Fried, who returned from the IL, was charged with five runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings, mostly due to a pair of homers surrendered in the sixth. He wasn’t at his best, but he did enough with a huge lead. Jerry Blevins and Chad Sobotka were each charged a run in relief.
These games are tricky in evaluating pitching, because going out there in an 11-1 game isn’t the same as a 2-2 nail biter. Fried’s performance – and Kevin Gausman on Sunday – could affect the team’s deadline plans at starter. If Gausman posts another serviceable performance, the Braves would feel less pressed to push for a starter by the trade deadline.
Gausman will try to build off his successful return from the injured list when he starts Sunday. He’ll oppose Phillies ace Aaron Nola, who’s tasked with preventing a sweep.