The Braves will start right-hander Spencer Strider in Game 4 here on Thursday.
“Spencer’s ready,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “He’s fired up. He wants the ball. There’s nobody else we’d rather have in the moment with our backs against the wall.”
Even if Strider is sharp, it’s not clear that the Braves can score enough runs to back him. The Phillies will start Ranger Suarez in Game 4. He’s on a lower tier than Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola, who combined to limit the Braves to four earned runs over 12 innings of Games 1 and 2.
But the assumption that the Braves will score more runs against Suarez is based on how the Braves hit and Suarez pitched all season. Nothing has gone as expected for Braves hitters. They can’t figure out Philadelphia’s pitchers, same as last October. And the excuse about the Braves being rusty because of the days off between the end of the season and the NLDS doesn’t fly.
The offense wasn’t much better in Game 3 than it was in Game 1′s shutout loss. Manager Brian Snitker said Braves hitters found their rhythm while scoring five runs over the final three innings of their comeback win in Game 2. Then the Braves managed just two runs against the Phillies in Game 3 while leaving 11 runners on base.
The Braves led the majors in runs scored this season but have just seven in 27 innings against the Phillies. The Braves set the MLB record for slugging percentage in a 162-game season but have just three hits for extra bases in this series.
“They’ve pitched great,” d’Arnaud said. “That’s what it is.”
The Braves haven’t matched it. The Phillies scored six runs in the third inning of Game 3, all charged to starter Bryce Elder. That’s also a replay from last October. The Phillies won Game 3 of the 2022 NLDS while scoring six runs in the third inning, with five charged to Strider. The losing margin in that game was eight runs, same as this Game 3.
The Phillies blew a 4-0 lead in Game 2 on Monday at Truist Park. This time they put up a number the Braves couldn’t hope to match. After the third inning, the Phillies added four solo home runs for good measure. Phillies fans turned the night into a party while mocking the Braves with the “Tomahawk chop” cheer.
Phillies star slugger Bryce Harper got the fun started with a three-run homer in the third inning that broke a 1-1 tie. Harper hit another homer in the fifth inning as the Phillies piled on Atlanta’s bullpen. Harper’s homer in Game 1 put the Phillies ahead for good.
“He’s a special player,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You put him in the spotlight, and he’s going to shine.”
Harper is outshining Braves counterpart Ronald Acuña Jr., the favorite to win the NL MVP Award. Acuña has two hits in this series. He’s not the only Braves slugger who’s not providing power. Matt Olson, the MLB home run leader, hasn’t hit one in the series.
The Braves needed great pitching to have a chance in Game 3. Elder couldn’t make it out of the third inning. That wasn’t unexpected given his struggles since pitching in the All-Star game, likely because of fatigue. Charlie Morton (finger) likely would have been the starter if he were healthy.
Snitker decided to start Elder in Game 3 based on the lively pitches he threw in a simulated game against Braves hitters last week. The decision looked good early. Elder was perfect through two innings with four strikouts. Phillies batters were whiffing on his sharp sliders. The Braves staked Elder to a 1-0 lead on Ozzie Albies’ RBI single in the third inning.
Elder immediately gave it back on a lead-off homer by Nick Castellanos and Brandon Marsh followed with a single. Elder recorded two outs before Trea Turner reached on an infield hit to bring up Harper. Snitker stuck with Elder.
Harper smashed a homer into the upper deck in right field for a 4-1 Phillies lead. The Braves still didn’t have a reliever warming up in the bullpen. Alec Bohm singled, but Snitker still stuck with Elder. Snitker finally gave Elder the hook after he walked Bryson Stott.
Snitker said he figured Elder could get through the third inning based on how he’d looked in the previous two. He said he considered walking Harper but was “hoping maybe that we’d make a pitch on him and he’d pop a ball up or if we walked him unintentionally, that would have been fine.” Elder said the 2-1 pitch down the middle that Harper hit out was supposed to be located outside of the strike zone.
It ended up not mattering much because the Braves couldn’t hit, again. This series is following the same script as last October. The Braves can change the narrative by winning Game 4 here on Thursday.