Phillies hope to gain ground on Braves

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Many were expecting a dogfight out of the National League East this year, with four of the five division residents having a legitimate claim for the crown entering the season.

Instead, the Atlanta Braves have made it look relatively easy, holding a sizable 6.5-game lead for first over the second-place Washington Nationals. The Philadelphia Phillies, who host the Braves this weekend for a three-game set, are right behind in third, 7.5 games back.

At first glance, the difference for the Fightin’ Phils has been their home-and-road play. In the City of Brotherly Love, the Phillies are 30-21 but on the road, they’re 22-27.

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Luckily, they’re at home in this next rivalry encounter with a chance to gain some ground on the division leaders.

Let’s take a look at the probables when these two contenders collide once more.

Mike Soroka vs. Jake Arrieta (Friday): It hasn’t been a great second season for Arrieta in Philadelphia. The former NL Cy Young Award winner owns an uncharacteristic 4.40 ERA through 20 starts, which is his highest since being traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Chicago Cubs five years ago. Arrieta has been gaining some momentum following a rough patch, though, yielding just a single run in each of his last two starts.

Meanwhile, Soroka has looked like a legit NL Rookie of the Year candidate more than halfway into the campaign. The 21-year-old is 10-2 with an impressive 2.46 ERA, and while he doesn’t come with a particularly high strikeout rate, he is holding opponents to a .230 batting average, 14th-lowest in the league among qualified starting pitchers. UNDER

Kevin Gausman vs. Zach Eflin (Saturday): Gausman finally made his return on last week’s Sunday Night Baseball after spending more than a month on the injured list. Fortunately for Braves faithful, he enjoyed arguably his best performance in what has been a trying year for the seven-year veteran. Gausman’s 5.71 ERA and 1.43 WHIP would rank as career-worst marks if those numbers end around there.

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Then there is Eflin, who has been having maybe his finest season to date based on his respectable 4.25 ERA. Eflin can benefit from being at home in this one, where his lifetime ERA (4.23) is more than a full run lower than it is on the road (5.44), but he’s been struggling for about a month now. Atlanta was one of the clubs that got to him during this poor stretch, including being responsible for his shortest outing (three innings) of the season. OVER

Dallas Keuchel vs. Drew Smyly (Sunday): Two starters who weren’t with their respective clubs a little more than a month ago will wrap up this crucial series. Of course, as it concerns Keuchel, teams had to wait before signing him in order to avoid forfeiting a draft pick. The former Houston Astro has been pretty good thus far in his new digs, recording a 3.58 ERA in his first six starts, but perhaps most notable, the under has gone 6-0.

Smyly just joined Philadelphia last week after he was cut loose by the Texas Rangers thanks to a miserable first half that saw the left-hander log an ugly 8.42 ERA and 1.91 WHIP in 13 games (nine starts). Interestingly, Smyly had arguably his best performance of the campaign in his first start as a Phillie, spinning six innings of one-run ball and tying a season-high with eight strikeouts. The Braves have the seventh-best team OPS (.797) opposite southpaws, however. OVER

Last week: 1-2

Season: 24-26

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