Gabe Kapler had a plan for Braves offense - and it worked

Caption
Nick Markakis was born Nov. 17, 1983 in Glen Cove, N.Y. Markakis graduated from Woodstock High in metro Atlanta and attended Young Harris College in northeast Georgia. In Markakis' first season at Young Harris, he was Baseball America’s 2002 National Junior College Player of the Year. Markakis was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft by the Orioles. He was the seventh player drafted. He was drafted three times. The time he was a 6-1, 160-pound high school pitcher in 2001, by the Reds in the 35th

Gabe Kapler said he had a plan against the Braves’ “dangerous lineup,” and whatever his Phillies executed worked.

Kapler’s first series as a manager, the opening three games of the season against the Braves, went so poorly some were questioning if he would make it past the All-Star break.

On May 24, he has the Phillies a half-game out of first place after taking two of three from the Braves, who owned the National League’s best record entering the set at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.

“Their lineup, top to bottom, is dangerous, and we respect it,” Kapler said before the series opener. “We’re prepared for it. We feel like we know how to attack it.”

He was right. They had nine previous games to study, but the Phillies finally responded.

It was as meaningful as May series go for the Phillies. They already had come up short in the previous three sets against the Braves, and they stressed extra importance on responding to those early shortcomings. The teams don’t meet again until late September.

“This (series) feels extremely important,” Kapler said. “The Braves are at the top of the division, which is where we want to be, where we expect to be.”

Whatever the Phillies knew going in, the Braves must be privy to the reality that it won’t remain for his eyes only. The Braves were demolished by Phillies pitching, scoring three runs total in three games and striking out 32 times.

Each of the runs came in Tuesday’s 3-1 win; the Braves were fortunate not to be swept. They scored half as many runs in the series as they did in the ninth inning against the Marlins on Sunday (six).

Had it not been for that remarkable rally, the Braves would’ve lost two of three at home to the Marlins, including a shutout Friday night. So it’s not to say the team was invincible, and the Phillies discovered some mass exploit.

After all, the Giants swept the Braves at SunTrust Park in early May when the Braves were still riding the high of Ronald Acuna’s promotion.

Kapler acknowledged he’s been scoreboard watching. The only thing that prevented his crew from snatching first place turned out to be Brandon McCarthy and the Braves’ bullpen’s efforts Tuesday night.

The Braves entered the series leading the National League in runs and batting average, and ranking second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. They feasted on the NL East, carrying a 19-10 mark into Philadelphia.

It’s not going to get much easier this weekend. The Braves take on MLB’s best team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park. They’ll face three lefties in the process, including ace Chris Sale on Sunday.

Conventional wisdom says the Braves’ stunning numbers were going to regress. And the Phillies’ rotation deserves much of the credit for this week: The group has allowed one earned run or fewer in 14 of their 19 starts in May.

“It was a very well-pitched series by both teams,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We had two really strong starts, probably as good of starts as we’ve had against us all year. That’s a really, really, really good pitching staff over there from top to bottom. We come in, have some opportunities but they’re really good and make it a rough ride.”

Whatever the Phillies learned – Kapler spared the media of the details of their attack plan – it succeeded. The Phillies are just the most recent example of a team adjusting to the Braves’ mighty offense.

The Braves look like a postseason team through 48 games, even with the bump in Philadelphia. The trick will now be adjusting to life as a contender.

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