A victory over the Phillies on Thursday night at Truist Park (7: 20 p.m. ET) — in the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day (blackout restrictions apply) — would clinch the division for Atlanta. The Braves have put themselves in this position by winning the first two games of the three-game set over their closest challenger, giving them five straight wins and nine out of 10 since the Phillies sliced the gap between the clubs to just a half-game on Sept. 18.
If Atlanta celebrates Thursday night, it will be the conclusion to an impressive comeback. The Braves bottomed out at five games under .500 (30-35) and eight games out of the division lead on June 16 and lost superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury on July 10.
But for now, manager Brian Snitker’s club still has some work to do. Here are three key things to know before you tune in to Thursday’s game on MLB.TV:
The Phillies must solve Ian Anderson’s changeup
The 23-year-old right-hander, Atlanta’s scheduled starter on Thursday, has authored a worthy follow-up to his debut season, which included a brilliant showing in the playoffs. In fact, Anderson has a good chance to receive NL Rookie of the Year votes for the second straight year — an extremely rare feat.
A big key to Anderson’s success is his changeup. He throws it 31.5% of the time, more often than all but three other starters in 2021 (minimum 1,000 total pitches), and it gets results. In his career, including the postseason, opponents have batted only .163 and slugged only .283 against it. In Anderson’s four previous matchups against the Phillies this year, he’s held them to 4-for-33 (.121) with no extra-base hits and 11 strikeouts in at-bats ending on changeups.
The Braves’ remade outfield is getting it done
Without Acuña and Marcell Ozuna, the Braves aggressively targeted outfield help before the July 30 Trade Deadline, adding Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler in a quartet of deals. That has paid off, in a big way.
From the day after the Deadline through Tuesday, Atlanta ranked seventh in MLB in slugging from its outfield (.478) and third in home runs (36). In Wednesday’s 7-2 win, those four players combined for three hits, four walks, three runs scored and two RBIs.
When the Phillies are on, watch until the end
You can’t count them out — but you can’t count their opponents out, either. It might be excruciating for Phillies fans and entertaining for everyone else, but it certainly isn’t boring.
On one hand, there have been four games this season in which Philly has fallen behind at least 6-0 and came back to win, which ties the 1987 Reds for the most such comebacks in a season in the Modern Era (since 1900), according to STATS. On the other hand, their bullpen’s 34 blown saves tied the 2004 Rockies for the single-season record. So no matter what, buckle up in the late innings.