The Phillies didn’t get a chance to spend Memorial Day Weekend down the shore or by the pool; they had obligations in Atlanta with a daunting 4 game series against the NL East-leading Braves on the schedule. With the way the Phils’ season has started, there weren’t exactly grand expectations for their first series with the Braves, and yet, there was still some cautious optimism that the guys could figure something out and compete with one of the better teams in baseball right now. Well, it wasn’t anything that should blow current expectations out of the water, but Rob Thomson’s squad showed some very encouraging signs over the 4 games against the Braves. Consistency is still a question, but the biggest thing to take away from this most recent series? The Phillies can absolutely play with the top-level competition in baseball.
Ending the 4-game series in an even split, the Phillies were able to take the middle 2 games to even give themselves a look at a series win this past Sunday. Unfortunately, Spencer Strider was dominant in that game, but the Phils came out of their series in Atlanta looking like they still have the ceiling we thought they had. Neither of the wins were blowouts, and Sunday’s game was hugely in favor of the Braves with an 11-4 final, but Thursday’s 8-5 loss was a tight game most of the way. They were high-intensity contests with some of the best baseball players on the planet right now showing up in a big early-season series, and the Phillies weren’t outmatched. It should be encouraging for this fan base to see their time rise to the moment despite some early struggles this year.
Not only did the team show some flashes of high-level baseball, but some individual players did as well. Taijuan Walker had an opportunity to make up for his early season shortcomings and went out and threw 6.2 innings of 3-run ball. He surrendered 10 hits, but danced out of danger against a tough Braves lineup, giving the Phils the chance to win 6-4. Zack Wheeler threw an absolute gem on Saturday going 8 shutout innings and allowing only 3 hits. It was the best start of the season for anyone in a Phillies uniform, and it was a much-needed breakthrough for Wheeler. The offense wasn’t exceptional, but averaging nearly 8 hits a game over 4 games in Atlanta shows that they weren’t totally dormant either. No individuals stood out at the plate for the series, but guys stepped up at different points, showing the power of this lineup when the Phillies get it firing on all cylinders.
Again, it wasn’t a series win, and there’s still plenty of work to be done. The Phils are 25-28, good for 4th in the NL East, a 6.5 game deficit, and a 2.5 game deficit for an NL Wild Card spot. It’s too early to worry about the standings, but it’s not an encouraging spot to be in. While this series against Atlanta might have shown Philly’s ceiling, it also is a reminder of how much better this team should be on a consistent basis. With 3 games each against the Mets and Nationals upcoming, the Phillies can still make inroads in the NL East, and they’ll need to sooner rather than later. But at least we saw that this team can still compete with top-level opposition. With their expectations this season, they’ll certainly have to.