Make it eight straight wins for the first place Atlanta Braves. In the first game of an important three-game series with the Phillies, the Braves erased a five-run deficit in the late innings Friday night and walked off with the win on Brian McCann’s two-strike, two-out, two-run single to left field (ATL 9, PHI 8)
Here’s video of the eighth and ninth inning rallies. The game-winning run was the 1,000th run batted in of McCann’s career.
Austin Riley, who doubled in a run immediately prior to McCann’s walk-off single, was down to his final strike as well. Phillies closer Hector Neris had two strikes on Riley and McCann and was unable to put hitter either away. The Braves scored two runs in the seventh and two runs in the eighth to set up the game-winning, three-run rally in the ninth.
This is what Friday’s game looked like in terms of win probability. In a nutshell, this graph shows each team’s chances of winning at any point in the game. After Neris got Josh Donaldson to ground out for the second out in the ninth inning, the Phillies had a 95.3 percent chance to win the game. Their win probability had not dipped below 86 percent since the sixth inning. And yet …
Friday’s win increased Atlanta’s division lead to 2 1/2 games and the eight-game winning streak is their longest since a nine-gamer back in 2014. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games while outscoring their opponents 92-66. The Phillies, meanwhile, have lost four of their last five games and they’d sat in first place since late April prior to this recent skid.
The Braves are starting to look like the team to beat in the NL East and that’s not just the eight-game winning streak talking. They recently added a significant bat to their lineup with the Riley call-up — he owns a .295/.336/.616 batting line with 10 homers in 27 games. At some point in the next week or so the Braves will add the recently signed Dallas Keuchel to the rotation, and that’ll be a big help.
Also, the Phillies are really beat up. Four relievers (Vince Velasquez, Jose Alvarez, Edubray Ramos, Neris) combined to allow five runs in in two innings Friday night, plus allow another two inherited runners to score. That was made possible by the six — six! — relievers Philadelphia has on the injured list at the moment. The list:
Robertson and Dominguez were expected to be manager Gabe Kapler’s primary end-game duo coming into the season, with Hunter and Neshek providing support, and Morgan handling tough lefties. All five are currently on the shelf and neither Robertson nor Dominguez is expected back anytime soon. Dominguez may be facing Tommy John surgery.
Add in Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending ACL tear and the Phillies are without several key players at the moment. (Speedy outfielder Roman Quinn would’ve had a much better chance to make a play on McCann’s walk-off single than Jay Bruce, but Quinn is on the injured list with a groin strain.) It’s unfortunate, but injuries are part of baseball, and the Phillies are dealing with a lot of them all at once. It hurts their NL East chances.
By no means are the Braves perfect. Frankly, I think you could make a very strong argument that whichever team wins the NL East will be the worst team among the six division winners this year. That said, the Braves have a deep and powerful offense, they have pitching help coming in Keuchel, and they’re loaded with young arms. That’ll come in handy when it’s time to make additions at the trade deadline.
This eight-game winning streak has vaulted the Braves over the Phillies in the standings and they’ll have a chance to extend their division lead in the final two games of the series this weekend. Eight-game winning streak or not, it looks to me that the Braves are emerging as the top team in the NL East. They have all the ingredients necessary to run way with it as the Phillies battle those injuries.