Last week ended up being a pretty decent week for the Braves, with a 4-game series split in Denver against a suddenly-hot Rockies team and a series victory against Mike Trout and Friends a.k.a. the Angels, with the 2 wins being their first in 2014 against American League opposition. The decent run of form has given the Braves a 1-game lead in the NL East over their nearest rivals (the Nationals and the Marlins (still)), and it's also given them a 6.5 game lead on their furthest rivals and the team who will be coming into Atlanta for a 3-game series this week, the Philadelphia Phillies.
In Major League baseball, there are 4 quadrants that you can be in at any given time: Young /Good, Young/Bad, Old/Good, and Old/Bad. As you would expect, the absolute last place you want to be is in the last quadrant that was mentioned, and that's where the Phillies are. They currently have the oldest roster in the National League right now, yet they are currently 29-38, sitting in the cellar of the NL East.
The weird thing about this is that the graybeards on the team are actually the ones who are producing. 2B Chase Utley, SS Jimmy Rollins, and C Carlos Ruiz are all 35 years old and they are currently the top 3 leaders in fWAR for the Phillies, respectively. In fact, J-Roll's current fWAR of 1.6 is equal to all of the WAR that he accumulated in 2013, so he's been enjoying a bit of a resurgence. Despite the fact that his fWAR is currently at -0.1, Ryan Howard is still leading the team in homers (11). So, the old guys are the ones showing life, here. It's the young guns who are currently sputtering.
Ben Revere is 26 years old. He recently hit the first home run of his career after 5 seasons and over 1500 at bats. He is also the only batter on the Phillies under 30 with an fWAR above 0, and his is currently at 0.5. Cody Asche is the only youngster with a wRC+ above 100 (currently 113, along with a slash line of .258/.346/.425), and he's been on the DL with a hamstring issue and probably won't be a major factor in this series.
When 3 guys who are about to turn the corner of the latter half of their 30s are leading the team in hitting, that's probably not a good sign for your ballclub. Indeed, the Phillies as a team are hitting .240/.306/.371 with 86 wRC+. That is good for 2nd worst in all of baseball, and this light-hitting bunch is definitely a far cry from the squads that used to torment the National League with their potent offense and feared bats.
The pitching has also fallen on hard times since the good ol' days, even more so with the loss of another productive 35-year old, starter Cliff Lee. He and Cole Hamels were still a pretty decent 1-2 punch at the top of rotation before Lee went to the 15-day DL with an elbow strain. Hamels, Monday's starter, has been pretty good for Philly this season with a 3.07 ERA and a 2.80 FIP, and his last two starts against the Padres and Reds were both very good outings that led to victories for the Phillies. Outside of Hamels, though, there isn't much to write home about, here. Tuesday's starter, Kyle Kendrick, has gotten roughed up on several occasions this season (and has the 4.09 ERA and 4.55 FIP to prove it), and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona has struggled in similar fashion, accumulating an ERA of 4.26 and a FIP of 4.75. He's the only one who has faced the Braves this season, and he only gave up 2 earned runs in his 6-inning outing against Atlanta, in a game that eventually devolved into complete and utter madness after Roberto Hernandez left the game. Hernandez will be Wednesday's starter.
The Phillies bullpen hasn't fared much better, either. While Johnathan Papelbon has been solid this season in recording 15 saves and only blowing 1 save opportunity, it's been getting to Papelbon that's been the problem. According to fangraphs, the bullpen is the 11th best in the NL as ranked by fWAR. That doesn't really help matters when the starting pitching needs all the help it can get.
Last year, the Braves went 7-3 against the Phillies at the Ted, so Atlanta's recently been a bit of a tough place for the Phillies to win at. With the Braves coming off of a winning series against the Angels and, it seems as if they'll be in a pretty good position to get another series victory under their belt against a somewhat underwhelming Philly team going into this weekend's series with the Nationals.
It's been a pretty long time since the Braves and Phillies met up way back in April (where the Braves took 2 out of 3 in Philadelphia), but the outlook for both teams remains the same. Despite being in a dogfight, the Braves are still at the top of the division, while the Phillies are slogging it out at the bottom. Here's hoping that the two teams live up to their billing for this series.