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A critical road trip for the Braves begins in Philadelphia

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The Braves have no margin for error remaining.

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

After a rain soaked series against the San Diego Padres, the Atlanta Braves will hit the road for a critical road trip that will set the course for the remainder of their season. Atlanta will begin a four-game series in Philadelphia Thursday before moving on to face the Mets in a five-game series that includes a doubleheader. That will take them up to the trade deadline where they could add more pieces to the roster or sell depending on where they are at in the standings.

The Braves are coming off of a frustrating homestand. They dropped two of three to the Tampa Bay Rays despite leading late in all three games. Their series opener against San Diego was rained out on Monday and rescheduled for a doubleheader Wednesday. They won Tuesday’s game 2-1 but then dropped Game 1 Wednesday 3-2 and were trailing in Game 2 5-4 when play was suspended due to rain.

Philadelphia entered play Wednesday in second place in the NL East, 2.5 games behind the New York Mets. They have been particularly tough at home where they are 27-17 on the season. They are currently scrambling and trying to prop up a pitching staff that has been hit hard by injury and COVID absences. They placed Bailey Falter and JD Hammer on the COVID list earlier this week while Zach Eflin went on the 10-day injured list due to knee tendinitis. They tossed a bullpen game Wednesday against the Yankees and will enter this weekend’s series with a bullpen that has been taxed in recent days.

Thursday, July 22, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Charlie Morton (19 GS, 105.0 IP, 27.7 K%, 8.2 BB%, 3.69 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.45 xFIP, 89 ERA-)

Charlie Morton will be operating with an extra day of rest after the Braves juggled their rotation earlier this week due to a rain out on Monday. Morton has been Atlanta’s best starter for most of the season. He allowed six hits and three runs over six innings in his last start against the Rays. He hasn’t had much luck against the Phillies this season. He allowed six hits and three runs over five innings in his first start of the season back on April 3. Morton faced them again on May 7 and had his shortest outing of the year allowing four hits and six unearned runs in just 2/3 of an inning.

Matt Moore (13 G, 7 GS, 36.0 IP, 19.9 K%, 10.2 BB%, 5.25 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 5.26 xFIP, 129 ERA-)

Matt Moore struggled in his initial stint in the Philadelphia rotation, but injuries and ongoing COVID issues have given him another opportunity. Moore has made four straight starts and has allowed a combined 17 hits and six earned runs in his last 17 2/3 innings. He has lasted as long as five innings twice this season, the first of which came in his second start of the year against Atlanta where he allowed nine hits and five runs in five innings. He made two relief appearances against the Braves in early May allowing three hits and a run in two innings.

Friday, July 23, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Max Fried (15 GS, 79.2 IP, 23.2 K%, 7.6 BB%, 4.29 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.83 xFIP, 104 ERA-)

Friday’s game will feature a marquee pitching matchup between Max Fried and Zach Wheeler. Fried was impressive on the mound and at the plate in his last start, firing seven scoreless innings while recording three hits at the plate in a win over Tampa Bay. That snapped a stretch of two straight starts where he had struggled and still currently has a 4.76 ERA through three starts in July. Fried allowed six hits and two runs in five innings against the Phillies on Opening Day.

Zack Wheeler (19 GS, 125.2 IP, 30.6 K%, 5.6 BB%, 2.44 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 2.73 xFIP, 60 ERA-)

Wheeler is putting up the best season of his career but has been hit around a bit in his last two starts. After firing 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Padres on July 2, Wheeler allowed eight hits and seven runs, although only four were earned, in 5 2/3 innings at Wrigley Field. He allowed seven hits and four runs over six in his last start against Miami. He has been dominant in three starts against the Braves allowing a combined 12 hits and three runs in 19 2/3 innings. All three of those runs came in his second start of the season on April 9.

Saturday, July 24, 6:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Drew Smyly (16 GS, 84.0 IP, 20.5 K%, 8.3 BB%, 4.50 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 4.89 xFIP, 109 ERA-)

Drew Smyly will make his second start since the All-Star break on Saturday and will be looking to continue a solid stretch. Smyly allowed three runs in his last start against the Rays, giving up the then-tying run on a solo homer in the sixth. He allowed four hits, those three runs and struck out six over 5 2/3 innings. Smyly has allowed three runs or less in eight straight starts and in eleven of his last 12 overall. He has faced the Phillies twice and has allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs in 9 1/3 innings.

Vince Velasquez (19 G, 15 GS, 77.1 IP, 24.3 K%, 12.6 BB%, 5.00 ERA, 5.35 FIP, 4.92 xFIP, 122 ERA-)

Vince Velasquez will get the start for Philadelphia and is searching for some consistency although he is coming off one of the best starts of the season. After allowing 15 hits and 13 runs in just 8 1/3 innings combined against the Padres and Red Sox, Velasquez allowed just one hit over five scoreless innings against the Marlins. He faced Atlanta back on May 8 and held them in check allowing just two hits, three walks and one run in 5 1/3 innings.

Sunday, July 25, 1:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Touki Toussaint (1 GS, 6.2 IP, 19.2 K%, 7.7 BB%, 1.35 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 3.83 xFIP, 32 ERA-)

Touki Toussaint will make his second start of the season Sunday and will be looking to build off of a solid debut. Toussaint turned in one of the best performances of his young career Tuesday when he held the Padres to just three hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out five and was attacking the strike zone which is something that he has struggled with in the past. If he can build off that performance on the road, then he can play a huge part for the Braves over the final two months of the season.

Aaron Nola (19 GS, 106.2 IP, 29.0 K%, 5.3 BB%, 4.64 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 3.42 xFIP, 113 ERA-)

Aaron Nola will make his second start after a stint on the COVID injured list. The Phillies rushed him back for Tuesday’s start in New York where he allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed a pair of homers and struck out five. Nola has faced the Braves three times this season allowing 18 hits and 11 runs in just 15 2/3 innings.