The 28-30 Philadelphia Phillies will face the 29-30 Atlanta Braves as they start a new series at Citizens Bank Park Tuesday night.

Here’s what to watch:

2 struggling teams

It’s hard to believe it, but the Braves haven’t been over .500 all season.

The Braves come to town for the first time since being swept by the Phils on opening weekend. The Braves have been a streaky team, with four winning streaks and five losing skids of at least three games.

The Braves are paying the price in the bullpen for letting Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day go. Their three best relievers last season were Melancon, O’Day, and Shane Greene. Melancon is a Padre, O’Day is a Yankee, and Greene has not pitched in the majors yet in 2021. He was signed by the Braves on May 9 and called up to the big-league roster Sunday.

The Braves went cheaper in the ‘pen and it’s showed. Only one of their eight most-used relievers had an ERA below 4.00 entering Sunday.

Atlanta signed starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly early in the offseason to one-year contracts worth $15 million and $11 million, respectively. Morton has been decent but hasn’t pitched up to his standard. He has a 4.21 ERA and his rates of walks, strikeouts and home runs are all worse than his prior three-year average. Smyly has a 5.98 ERA and has allowed 14 home runs in nine starts. The Phillies will face him in Tuesday’s series opener.

The Braves are also without Marcell Ozuna, probably for the rest of the season. Their starting leftfielder was arrested on May 29 and charged with aggravated assault strangulation and misdemeanor battery related to family violence.

Ozuna signed a four-year, $65 million contract this past offseason to return to the Braves. The collective bargaining agreement prevents the Braves from voiding his contract, the same way the Phillies could not void Odubel Herrera’s. MLB suspended Herrera for the rest of the season in 2019 and the same thing could happen to Ozuna.

Ozuna, who was off to a slow start, led the National League last season with 18 homers and 56 RBI while hitting .338.

Last year’s NL MVP, Freddie Freeman is having a surprisingly skimpy season. He’s hitting .229 with an .807 OPS. His batting average is a career-low, it’s the lowest his on-base percentage has been since 2012 and the lowest his slugging percentage has been since 2011. He’s homered once in his last 16 games.

The Phillies will have their top three pitchers going in this series. Aaron Nola is followed by Zach Eflin (on nine days rest) in game two and Zack Wheeler in game three. It’s the first time since the first weekend of the season that the Phillies have their top three starters pitching in the same three-game series. 

The Phillies are 16-19 behind Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin. Unless that trend reverses quickly, they won’t be close to contention in September.

Nola starts

Last Tuesday, Nola became the ninth pitcher in Phillies history to record 1,000 strikeouts.

Nola is 1-4 in his last six starts against the Braves. He’s allowed at least four runs in six of the teams’ last nine meetings and has a 5.26 ERA over that span.

Starting lineups

Phillies’ starting lineup vs. Braves’ starter Drew Smyly:

  1. Odubel Herrera (L) CF
  2. Jean Segura (R) 2B
  3. Rhys Hoskins (R) 1B
  4. Bryce Harper (L) RF
  5. J.T. Realmuto (R) C
  6. Andrew McCutchen (R) LF
  7. Alec Bohm (R) 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes (R) SS
  9. Aaron Nola (R) P

Braves’ starting lineup vs. Phillies’ starter Aaron Nola:

  1. Ronald Acuna Jr. (R) RF
  2. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
  3. Ozzie Albies (S) 2B
  4. Austin Riley (R) 3B
  5. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
  6. Abraham Almonte (S) LF
  7. William Contreras (R) C
  8. Guillermo Heredia (R) CF
  9. Drew Smyly (L) P

Essentials

  • When: 7:05 P.M. E.S.T.
  • Where: Citizens Bank Park
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • Radio: 94.1 WIP
  • Social media coverage: Philly Sports Reports’ Twitter & Instagram.