MLB seeing battle for NL East top spot

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As expected, it’s been a dogfight for the top spot in the National League East. Coming into the campaign, four of the division’s residents had a legitimate claim for the crown, each holding promising hopes to be competing in October.

Entering Tuesday’s action, two of those contenders, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, were tied for first with a 37-29 record. On Friday evening, they’ll meet for the first time since the season’s opening series in what will be one of the high-profile matchups of the weekend.

In that first encounter, the Phillies pulled off a sweep, taking all three games in the series en route to a strong 7-2 start out of the gate. It took the Braves a little bit of time following a sluggish beginning but they’ve been playing much better since, hence how they find themselves knotted up with Philadelphia.

Competitive baseball should be expected when these two rivals hook up once more. Let’s see how that can translate for each game’s over/under.

Nick Pivetta vs. Max Fried (Friday): The performance of Fried thus far in the left-hander’s first full season as a big-league starter has been a pleasure to watch unfold. If you’ll recall, the 2012 No. 7 overall draft pick was my top sleeper entering the year and he’s certainly done his part, scratching out a 7-3 record to go with his respectable 3.75 ERA.

Fried’s had some difficulty as of late, though, surrendering three runs or more in each of his last three starts. Previously, he had allowed as many runs only three times in his first 10 starts. While the 24-year-old southpaw draws a tough offense in this one, at least he’ll be able to work from home. His 2.91 ERA and 1.16 WHIP easily best the 4.07 ERA and 1.55 WHIP he’s posted on the road.

Pivetta, meanwhile, has been trending up. In fact, he just recorded his first career complete game his last time out, and going back a bit further, the right-hander yielded three runs or fewer in his last four outings. There’s no doubt Atlanta has a dangerous offense but Pivetta’s roll may help him clock in with a solid performance. UNDER

Aaron Nola vs. Kevin Gausman (Saturday): It’ll be an interesting showdown between two former early first-round draft picks in the second affair. One is an established ace, as evident in Nola’s outstanding showing a year ago when he was an All-Star for the first time.

While Nola hasn’t been as consistent in 2019, his outlook looks positive here nonetheless given what he’s done against the Braves since first coming up four years ago. In 13 career meetings, Nola has registered a dynamite 2.05 ERA and 1.03 WHIP across 83.1 innings. He’s also pitched the Phils into the sixth inning or deeper in all his matchups with Atlanta.

Gausman, on the other end, has simply been ghastly, so much so that his rotation spot could be in danger. Opponents have pounded the former Baltimore Oriole for 19 runs (17 earned) on 25 hits over his last three starts, spanning just 8.1 total innings. It’s hard to see him suddenly get back on track against a potent Phillies batting order. OVER

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Mike Foltynewicz (Sunday): If you’re looking for a game that could feature plenty of home runs, just make sure Eickhoff is listed as one of the probable starters. The 28-year-old right-hander is tied for the league-lead with 16 homers, serving up all of those in his last six starts after not allowing a single one in his first five appearances (four starts). A date with the Braves doesn’t figure to cure that.

Foltynewicz has endured his own issues with the long ball, even ranking right behind Eickhoff with 15 taters allowed. Even worse is that he’s needed less games to do it (eight starts), while amassing an undesirable 5.89 ERA — that’s a far cry from the 2.85 ERA Folty posted in 31 starts last season. With these two starters going at it, there could be fireworks. OVER

Last week: 1-2

Season: 17-15

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