Phillies Are Hefty Underdog Against Defending MLB Champs

Phils went 8-11 vs. stacked Braves in regular season and hope for better starting Tuesday
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The Phillies may have limped into the postseason with a 7-13 record in their final 20 games, but a two-game wild card round sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis erased any doubt that they’re a legitimate MLB contender.

Their next challenge as an underdog is in facing the defending world champion Atlanta Braves, a rested team that has been as hot as any in baseball since June. That included going 13-7 in their own final 20 games, with a crucial three-game sweep of the New York Mets that gave Atlanta the NL East title and a first-round playoff bye.

The teams begin a best-of-five NL Division Series at Truist Field at 1:07 p.m. Tuesday, with the third and potentially fourth games of the series to be played Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia.

With the Braves being defending champions, having home-field advantage, and winning 14 more games than the Phils in the regular season, they are heavily favored. A bettor who likes the Phillies and uses Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks can get a return of +175 from the many sites sharing Kambi odds (including BetRivers, betPARX, Unibet, and TwinSpires) if they win the series. BetMGM, PointsBet, and Caesars Sportsbook are just behind that at +165.

The good news for those hoping the Phils advance is the oddsmakers actually deem them to have the best chance of winning among the four underdogs in this week’s divisional series.

Suarez vs. Fried in Game 1

With Philadelphia’s dual aces — Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola — needing rest after their successful starts (13 combined shutout innings) in St. Louis, manager Rob Thomson has to turn to Ranger Suarez to start Tuesday’s opener vs. the Braves’ Max Fried.

For that game, the sportsbooks have Atlanta as about the same level of favorite as is the case for the series overall. The Kambi sites were again offering the best odds as of Monday morning on the Phils to win the game, at +160. DraftKings, BetMGM, and FOX Bet were all at +155.

In one hopeful sign for the Phillies, Suarez did well in recent starts against Atlanta, including pitching six shutout innings on Sept. 22 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. He finished the season 10-7 with a 3.65 ERA, whereas Fried was 14-7 with a strong 2.48 ERA.

In the 19 games between the clubs in the regular season, the Braves had an 11-8 advantage but outscored the Phillies only 88-85.

The thing about these Braves is they have no apparent weaknesses. They are among MLB leaders in both offense (2nd in homers with 243) and pitching (6th in ERA at 3.46), a deep bullpen is led by closer Kenley Jensen (41 saves), and young phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. wasn’t even among their leading hitters this year.

They also had the National League’s top two Rookie of the Year candidates in outfielder Michael Harris II (.853 OPS, 19 homers, 20 steals) and hard-throwing Spencer Strider, but the status of the latter is the Braves’ key question mark. He hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18 due to a strained oblique. When healthy, he had a 2.67 ERA and struck out 202 batters in 132 innings. That included going 4-0 against the Phils, with a 1.27 ERA in four games.

Beyond Wheeler and Nola, who are expected to start games 2 and 3, Philadelphia has a big dropoff in pitching talent compared to Atlanta. That’s particularly notable in the emergence of Zach Elfin as closer — his one career save is 390 fewer than Jensen’s.

So the Phils could be depending on their big bats to emerge to produce a series win. It will require better hitting at the top of the lineup, as despite the two victories over St. Louis, the top five in the order went 3-for-36 in those games.

Odds were a lot longer in the spring

No matter what happens this week, there are positives to take from the Phillies making their first postseason appearance since 2011. Before the season started, you could bet them at 18/1 to win the National League and 35/1 to win the World Series — odds that naturally are considerably shorter now.

Still, of the four NL playoff teams, they are given the longest odds of winning the pennant, slightly behind the chances of the San Diego Padres, who play the favored Los Angeles Dodgers. Philadelphia is +500 with FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetRivers, among other sites, to win the pennant.

The Phils can be bet at +1200 to win the World Series at DraftKings and BetRivers. The Dodgers are the favorite both to win the NL (longest odds are +150 at FOX Bet) and the World Series (+300 at DraftKings, BetRivers, PointsBet), with the Houston Astros favored to represent the AL.

Photo: Jeff Curry/USA TODAY

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