Fox Sports MLB Analyst
ATLANTA — The best lineup in baseball history had a night.
The 2023 Atlanta Braves posted their highest slugging percentage ever, had their highest OPS+ and tied the MLB home run record, but were held scoreless against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night. This is Atlanta’s first home game this season. Meanwhile, the Phillies scored three times; less than they wanted, but enough to take a 3-0 victory in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
It was a promising day for the Warriors in their first playoff game of the year.
In the meantime, they waited patiently to stay fresh in last week’s scrimmage game. But Saturday is the first chance for the 104-win team to vent its anger on the opponent it defeated in Atlanta last October. Atlanta’s offensive depth has been ridiculous all summer, wreaking havoc on anyone who shares the diamond with it. Truist Park had its highest attendance ever. Warriors fans are excited.
Trailing 1-0 in the final series, this was the first home elimination since August 2021, diamond garbage.
The series was billed as a heavyweight brawl with two strong rosters going toe-to-toe. But pitching took center stage in Game 1. Bryson Stout gave the Phillies an early lead on an RBI single in the fourth inning. Bryce Harper then ripped a heat-seeking missile off Spencer Strider’s first-pitch slider and into the right-field seats in the sixth inning. A controversial catcher’s interference in the eighth inning sealed the victory for Philadelphia.
The game was reviewed and upheld, with a confusing replay shown on the video board inside the stadium. Some aggrieved Warriors fans threw trash onto the playing field, raining boos and drinks on the game, causing the game to be postponed until stadium staff could deal with the trash.
For a moment, it seemed like Atlanta’s offense was in trouble, and the Braves cornered runners with only one out in the bottom half of the eighth. Phillies reliever Matt Strahm had his back against the wall and looked at the ropes as Ozzie Albies came up with the tying run at the plate.
When Albies hit a shot on holes 5-6, it seemed inevitable that the Warriors would be back. But Phillies shortstop Trea Turner stretched the ball completely to his glove side and instantly backhand shoveled the ball to second base. Stott rallied and made it a first-place double. End of inning, end of game – thank you for coming, the biggest crowd in the history of Trust Park.
“Wow. I was kind of like, wow,” Stout said afterward. “I was flying. That was really cool.”
This was supposed to be a game where Atlanta had the pitching advantage and Philadelphia could afford to lose. With their well-deserved first-round bye, the Warriors arranged their starters to their liking. Philadelphia, on the other hand, had to use their two top players in Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola and eliminate the Marlins in the wild-card round. That creates an lopsided pitching matchup, at least on paper: Strider versus the Phillies’ No. 3 starter, Ranger Suarez.
But the Phillies flipped the script with the help of Suarez and six relievers. It was an impressive performance that completely dismantled an offense that had terrorized pitchers all season. Suarez was famously ruthless last October, allowing no hits until Matt Olson’s single in the fourth quarter. Although he was pulled shortly after, the Philly bullpen didn’t back down. Jeff Hoffman – aka “Papa Hoff” – fought his way out of trouble to retain the win.
It’s uncomfortable to watch the revolving door of single-inning pitchers, with Strider recently posting the highest strikeout rate for a starting pitcher in MLB history. But this is modern baseball. The words “bullpen game” no longer make people sweat.
“Sometimes I play the role of manager,” Nick Castellanos admitted to Fox Sports. “I’d be lying if I said there were times when I wasn’t worried about (finding 27 outs), but then I check myself and remember my job is to catch fly balls.”
Much of the focus leading up to the first game was on Strider. In last year’s NLDS, the then-rookie pitcher, who hadn’t pitched in three weeks entering the series, was troublesome with slant pitches. His fastball velocity dropped, and the Phillies sent him farther.
But the story on Saturday wasn’t Strider.
Bryce Harper hits solo home run in Phillies’ 3-0 win over Braves
The thick-legged pitcher was outstanding, striking out eight in seven strong innings. Most Phillies stood little chance against his unstoppable fastball and slider combination. If the Warriors had scored 10 points, he would have been a hero, his demons buried and his revenge gone. But the baseball gods had other plans.
It was a shocking start to what was destined to be an extraordinary series. No one’s bingo card said “Phillies shut out Braves with bullpen game at home.”
While the drama of this game was relatively minor, the outcome could have turned the entire series around. Philadelphia will have the starting pitching advantage and a rested bullpen in Game 2 on Monday. Wheeler will face Max Fried, one of the best pitchers in baseball who missed the end of the regular season with a blister. The Phillies then return to their home court at Citizens Bank Park, where they don’t lose often this time of year.
Their stoic manager Rob Thomson isn’t getting too ahead of himself, though. In October, even a short series can be a long series.
“You can’t take anyone for granted,” he said. “I mean, those guys have to pitch and we have to compete.”
Jack Mintzlarger half @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for Fox Sports. He played baseball in college, playing poorly at first and then playing well for a short time. Jack lives in New York City, where he coaches Little League baseball and sometimes rides his bicycle. Follow him on Twitter: @JackMintz.
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