ATLANTA — The Phillies played a home derby against the best team in baseball on Monday night, using long balls from five different players and six sharp innings from ace Zach Wheeler to beat the Braves, 7-1.
Wheeler gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, Ozzie Albies, then was clean the rest of the way with a fastball averaging 96 mph and an even better drive. It was a big outing to bounce back after allowing six runs and three homers to these same Braves last Tuesday at home. Monday’s series opener was the Braves’ quietest offensive outing since May 12, the only other time this season they held one run to three hits or worse.
“You kind of want, after one last outing, to show them, ‘Hey, you still have to deal with me,'” he said. “The mental aspect, for them and for me, is just getting back on track. They know I’m still me, I guess you could say.”
Wheeler retired the Braves in order three times in his six innings. He is 12-6 with a 3.63 ERA through 30 starts. He is scheduled to score two more goals in the regular season, both against the Mets. The latter could be a shortstop starter if the Phillies have secured the top spot in the wild card by then.
The Phils (82-68) lead the Diamondbacks by 3 1/2 games for the fourth seed, which comes with home-field advantage in the wild-card round. They also own the tiebreaker over the Diamondbacks, making the lead 4 games with 12 games remaining. The Phillies’ magic number to clinch the first wild-card spot is 9.
Rookie midfielder Johan Rojas was the first to dig deep for the visiting side. He hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the second inning to provide a lead that would last the rest of the way. It was his first home run of his big league career out of the infielder’s position, so this was his first “real” game. He was a major difference-maker in the field and the spark plug that kept him at the bottom of the order, hitting .300 with a .344 on-base percentage in 133 plate appearances.
“Moments like this not only give us confidence, but they build harmony in the club,” Rojas said. “Ceranthony (Domínguez) was joking with me a while ago saying, ‘Finally, I finally hit a homer off a real pitcher.’ It’s the little things like that, they’re really good for the group.
“Overall, I feel very good here in the big leagues. I’m giving it 100 percent, and it’s always about the maximum effort you’ll see from me. I’m enjoying this moment as much as I can. I feel like ‘We’re all family.’ We see each other as family. “I’ve always wanted to be here and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and Nick Castellanos hit singles in the third, fourth and sixth innings. Harper’s was a thing of beauty, taking a simple swing at a pitch off the plate that he took the other way.
Three batters after Castellanos’ return, Kyle Schwarber hit the hardest hit ever, hitting a 483-foot home run to right field. It was the second-longest home run in Truist Park’s seven-year history, behind only Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 495-footer.
“Damn, I would have won it if I had gone in the front row,” he said. “It was a good day offensively for all of us. A home run is a home run but I felt like the bats were pretty good.”
Schwarber has 45 home runs, Trea Turner has 26, Castellanos has 25, JT Realmuto has 19, Harper has 18, Alec Bohm has 17, and Bryson Stott has 15. The Braves are the only team since the All-Star break with more homers. Velez.
“We were swinging the bats well against everyone,” manager Rob Thompson said. “The really encouraging thing is we kept their rates down. Wheeler did a great job. That’s what you have to do.”
The Braves have won six straight division titles and celebrated their latest at the Phillies’ home stadium just last week. Despite how dominant the Braves have been, the Phillies are 39-43 since 2019, a .476 winning percentage. Over the same period, the rest of MLB is 249-401 versus Atlanta, a .383 winning percentage. If the Phils had the same success rate as the rest of the league, they would have lost eight more games to the Braves than they did during that five-year span.
The Braves are not afraid of the Phillies, in the same way that the Marlins are not afraid of the Phillies. They could find themselves back in Atlanta in three weeks because the Braves will be the NLDS opponent if the Phillies advance past the wild card round.
After losing five of seven games at Citizens Bank Park last week, the Phillies have won three of four to start a six-game road trip. They look to win the series on Tuesday night. Christopher Sanchez will start and he will be supported by Michael Lorenzen. Ace Spencer Stryder goes to Atlanta.
“Whenever we meet these guys, we always feel like it’s going to be a dogfight,” Schwarber said.
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