In an otherwise lovely start to the 2018 season, the Phillies have been battered by the Atlanta Braves. The most recent pounding took place Sunday afternoon following the Phillie Phanatic's birthday celebration at Citizens Bank Park.
Shortly after the dog-and-kiddie show was escorted off the field, the Braves put up six runs in the first three innings in what became a painfully long 10-1 loss for the Phillies. Hopefully the parents covered the children's eyes once the baseball started. Some parents might have done even more than that, because the crowd of 31,010 had thinned considerably by the time former Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle recorded the final out for the Braves, bringing the chilly 3-hour, 26-minute snore-a-thon to a conclusion.
"A tough day across the board, obviously," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Vinny didn't come out with his best stuff and that's going to happen. We're going to have some starts that aren't perfect and that was one of them."
Velasquez fell to 1-4 with a 5.70 ERA overall and 0-3 with a 9.23 ERA against the Braves. The Phillies have been outscored, 32-6, in Velasquez's starts against Atlanta. They fell to 3-6 against the Braves and have been outscored by Atlanta, 54-30. The Phils are 13-5 against their six other opponents, outscoring them by 96-55.
A scheduling quirk matched the Phillies against the Braves nine times in the season's first 27 games, and they will meet again in exactly three weeks at Citizens Bank Park. At that point, the Phils will have played four series against Atlanta and no more than one series against any other team except the Miami Marlins, who they play Monday night.
Major League Baseball has offered no explanation for such odd scheduling, but the two teams each left the ballpark late Sunday afternoon with 16-11 records, tied for second place in the National League East.
The Phillies can feel good about that, but they have still won only one series against a team with a winning record, and if you can trust the eye test over the actual records, the Braves clearly appear to be the young team closer to breaking through at this point. Even Kapler agreed that the Braves' lineup is to be admired, especially since it now includes top prospect Ronald Acuna near the top of it.
"It's just a very deep, strong lineup," Kapler said. "With Acuna … he actually provides some pop right there at the top and then [Ender] Inciarte at the bottom … it will grind you down. It's a really good lineup. They did a good job. They deserve credit."
Kapler, however, was not willing to concede that the Braves are better than the Phillies simply because of the way the first three series of the season have gone.
"We feel we match up very well against the Braves," the manager said. "We have a lot of confidence every time we play them for sure."
So why then have the Braves owned the Phillies so far this season?
"I think very directly they have just played better than us in the games that we have played them," Kapler said. "Not much more to say about it. They have gotten big hits, they have pitched a little better and they have been the better team in the games we have played against them."
The Braves appear to have a couple of young superstars in their lineup who should serve as outstanding complements to first baseman Freddie Freeman, a two-time all-star who is still only 28 years old, and Nick Markakis, a proven veteran off to a great start.
Second-year second baseman Ozzie Albies triggered Sunday's rout by opening the game with his ninth home run of the season, which is tied for the league lead. He later added his league-leading 12th double and scored three times to go along with his three RBIs. Acuna, still only 20, is hitting .421 after five big-league games. He doubled twice Sunday.
The Phillies and Braves will meet again in three weeks and it will be interesting to see where each team stands at that point. It will be far more interesting to see where the teams are at in the standings near the end of September when they play each other in seven of their final 11 games.
Oddly, the Phillies and Braves will play only two games against each other during the summer time, with those coming on the final two days before the calendar turns to autumn. It is definitely a weird schedule, and in the season's early stages the oddity has heavily favored the Braves.