Braves look playoff-ready while Phils cling to hope

The Atlanta Braves will look to keep their positive momentum going when they visit the Philadelphia Phillies in the second game of a four-game series on Tuesday.

After winning a season-high nine straight, the Braves fell to the Washington Nationals on Sunday. However, they quickly rebounded and handily won 7-2 on Monday behind home runs from Ronald Acuna Jr. and Josh Donaldson.

The Braves, who have also won 18 of 21, will send Max Fried (16-4, 3.86 ERA) to the mound for Tuesday's matchup.

In his previous start, Fried tossed seven scoreless innings and gave up just one hit in a 4-2 win over the Nationals. During one sizzling stretch, Fried retired 19 batters in a row.

"You just know this is what we've been playing the whole year for," Fried said after the victory Thursday. "We're coming down to the end of the year. I'm just trying to finish as strong as possible."

Fried has registered at least eight strikeouts in four of his past six starts and owns a 2.90 ERA over his past seven starts. He has won seven straight decisions over nine starts, taking his last defeat on July 6 against Miami -- his final start before the All-Star break.

Catcher Brian McCann continues to be impressed with Fried's array of pitches.

"The slider keeps everybody off the fastball," McCann said. "It all plays together. It was fastball-curveball early in the season. Now he's got that slider, which looks like the fastball, so it kind of protects everything else."

A balanced Atlanta lineup also continues to back the strong pitching staff. Freddie Freeman had three hits on Monday while Ozzie Albies had a pair of hits. On any given night, any hitter can carry the Braves.

"The depth of our lineup and that added power legitimizes us," manager Brian Snitker said.

The inconsistent Phillies dropped to three games behind the Chicago Cubs in the chase for the second National League wild-card berth. After winning the final two games of a three-game series on the road against the New York Mets, the Phillies came out flat Monday and amassed just five hits.

Still, they're alive with big games remaining.

"I just care deeply about pushing this team deep into September, playing meaningful games and having a chance to go to the postseason," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told reporters. "I believe in this team, and I expect us to make a strong push here."

Catcher J.T. Realmuto, who had a single Monday, enters play Tuesday with a career-best 23 home runs and 79 RBI.

Beyond the statistics, Realmuto realizes that time is running out on the team's playoff aspirations.

"We still have plenty of time, but we have to turn it around quickly," Realmuto said. "We're (two games) out with three weeks left in the season with some really important games against some really good teams. So we have time to do it, but we have to do it pretty quickly."

The Phillies will hand the ball to left-hander Jason Vargas (6-7, 4.27 ERA). In Vargas' last start against the Cincinnati Reds, he earned a no-decision despite a strong performance in 5 1/3 innings. After allowing two hits through the first five scoreless innings, he gave up a two-run homer to Jose Iglesias.

Vargas is 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in seven career games (six starts) vs. Atlanta. His lone start against the Braves this year was his worst outing of the season. He got just one out on April 13 while allowing four runs on two hits and three walks in a no-decision.

Fried has faced the Phillies four times this year, twice as a starter, going 1-0 with a 6.94 ERA. In eight career outings (two starts) vs. Philadelphia, he is 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA.

The Phillies are 5-4 in September.

--Field Level Media
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