Against all odds, the Philadelphia Phillies are within striking distance in the National League East lead with just six games left to go. Thanks to a bunch of multiple-game winning streaks in August and September, Philadelphia has climbed to within 2½ games of the first-place Atlanta Braves. The Phillies will have a chance to gain ground against the Braves this week when they face off in a three-game set starting Tuesday night in Atlanta.
The Phillies had their most recent winning streak snapped on Sunday afternoon by the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, who shut out Philadelphia 6-0. It was a really tough day for the Phillies, who dropped a winnable game early in the day and then saw the Braves hold on to beat the San Diego Padres a few hours later. Philadelphia doesn’t have much margin for error at this point, so every game is enormous — especially when it’s against the team the Phillies are chasing in the standings.
Zack Wheeler starts for the Phillies against the Braves’ Charlie Morton. First pitch from Atlanta is at 7:20 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Braves as moneyline favorites at -121 while the Phillies are +111 moneyline underdogs. MLB odds have the over/under at 7½ runs.
Wheeler Can Strengthen Cy Young Resume
Wheeler has been nothing but dominant since signing with the Phillies before the 2020 season and is right up there in the NL Cy Young Award conversation once again. He leads the majors in complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and batters faced. He also leads the NL in strikeouts to go with a stellar 2.79 ERA. He has taken the mound each time his name has been called and, with the exception of a few bad outings, has been incredible all season.
He has basically been untouchable in September, allowing just three earned runs in four starts this month. Philadelphia has won each of those games as Wheeler has saved his best stuff for the most important part of the season. He’ll look to continue that impressive run against a tough Braves lineup.
If you’re betting online, you should back Wheeler and the Phillies’ moneyline. It looks like his August struggles are behind him and he’s doing all he can to help Philadelphia sneak into the postseason and burnish his own Cy Young credentials.
Bullpen Will Betray Morton
The Braves will also have their most effective pitcher on the mound on Tuesday, with the veteran Morton on the bump. With a team-high 176 innings pitched and 3.53 ERA, the soon-to-be-38-year-old has been one of the only steady points in an Atlanta rotation that has dealt with a ton of injuries and, frankly, is lucky to still be in good shape as the regular season winds down.
With a fresh contract extension in hand, Morton has been reliable as usual lately, giving the Braves a quality start each time he’s on the mound. Teams just can’t seem to solve his curveball, which is one of the best in the sport. What Morton can’t control, though, is how much run support he gets and if the unsteady Atlanta bullpen will back him up well.
Despite how well he has pitched for the past few weeks, the Braves are just 1-5 in Morton’s last six starts. Morton left the game with the lead in two of those losses and left with the game tied in one, so the team’s recent issues in his outings are almost entirely out of his hands. Atlanta did a good job adding bullpen arms (and outfield bats) at the trade deadline, but the Braves’ bullpen is still pretty mediocre overall and has blown a ton of saves.
So, you should take advantage of the MLB lines giving the Braves too much credit here. They have won seven of their last eight games but have mostly done so against the 100-loss Arizona Diamondbacks and collapsing San Diego Padres.
Phillies Excel in One-Run Games
It might be counter-intuitive but the Phillies, who might set a major league record for most blown saves in a season, have actually been really good in one-run games while the Braves have struggled in them. Philadelphia is 30-23 in one-run games and Atlanta is 24-30, which makes it even more impressive that the Braves are the one with the division lead and easier path to the postseason.
A lot of that has to do with the issues Braves closer Will Smith has had with small leads or in tie games. Pitcher records are usually meaningless but Smith’s 3-7 record as a closer says a lot about how he has lost a ton of games for Atlanta, often on home runs (he has given up 11 long-balls in 65 innings).
On the other hand, the Phillies’ closer situation has been much better since the trade deadline, when Philadelphia picked up Ian Kennedy and has mostly used him to save games. That has freed Héctor Neris to pitch in high-leverage situations in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings, where he has thrived. After a dreadful start, Neris has a 1.41 ERA in his last 32 innings, even with a few rough outings in September. The key for him is that his walks are down, which has turned him back into a really effective bullpen piece for Joe Girardi.
As far as MLB picks go, you can’t go wrong with the Phillies and the juice on Tuesday.
Pick: Philadelphia Phillies +111