Phillies-Braves 5 Things: Atlanta Somehow Even Worse Than Record

Phillies (18-14) at Braves (7-23)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

About a week ago I was watching a baseball highlights show on a national network and they started talking about the Phillies. When asked if the Phils could keep this up, one analyst said probably not, explaining that the reason they've been decent so far is because they have 36 total games this season against the Braves and Marlins. Never mind that a week ago, the Phils hadn't yet even faced the Braves or Marlins.

But after coming from behind to take two of three games over the weekend in Miami, the Phillies on Tuesday begin the third and final leg of this 10-game road trip in Atlanta.

The Braves are bad. Really bad. Really, really, really bad. So even though expectations were low for the Phillies themselves headed into 2016, this is an early-season series they'll be expected to win.

1. Braves in the basement
Atlanta is following a rebuilding process similar to the Phillies'. But few expected it to be this bad for the Braves early in 2016.

At 7-23, the Braves have the worst record in the majors. They're 1-15 at home, which is obviously also worst in the majors. They've scored 90 runs for an average of 3.0 per game, also dead-last. Their run differential of minus-63 is 11 worse than any NL team.

The Braves have seven home runs in 30 games. No other major-league team has fewer than 24. Ryan Howard has seven home runs by himself. In fact, 32 players have more homers than the Braves.

Freddie Freeman has four of those seven homers. The rest of the Braves' roster has three in 1,005 plate appearances. 

Atlanta has two bats you have to be careful with: Freeman and rightfielder Nick Markakis, who leads the team with 20 RBIs despite leading off. Markakis does not have power, but he's a solid, clutch hitter from the left side batting .294 with a .395 on-base percentage.

The Braves have been nearly as impotent defensively as they have been offensively, committing 25 errors, third-most in the majors.

And their starting rotation has been reminiscent of the 2015 Phillies'. Braves starters have averaged 5.4 innings per start, last in the majors.

So, yeah ... this Braves team has pretty clearly been the worst in the majors so far with no immediate signs of a substantial improvement. That said, Atlanta has some top prospects who could comprise its entire infield next season in Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Rio Ruiz.

2. Third start for Morgan
Adam Morgan (0-0, 6.00) makes his third start of the season and 18th start of his two-year career Tuesday at Turner Field. Morgan was cruising last week in St. Louis before encountering trouble in the fifth inning, which he couldn't finish. He ended up allowing three runs on six hits and two walks over four innings.

Morgan started against the Braves three times last season and went 0-3 with a 4.00 ERA. But he pitched well in two of those three games, allowing two runs over seven innings the first time and two runs in six innings the third time. Both of those games were at Turner Field. In the lone home start vs. Atlanta, Morgan gave up four runs in five innings.

Current Braves are 7 for 22 (.318) against Morgan with three doubles and a home run, which belongs to second baseman Jace Peterson.

Carlos Ruiz is behind the plate to catch Morgan for just the sixth time in his 18 starts (see lineup).

3. Scouting Matt Wisler
The Phillies face a confident young right-hander tonight in 23-year-old Matt Wisler (1-2, 3.24).

This is Wisler's first start in a week. Last Tuesday, he allowed just one hit over eight shutout innings against the Mets. The Mets are a boom-bust, homer-prone offense, but there's no discounting what Wisler did at Citi Field.

On the season, Wisler ranks second in the National League with a .175 opponents' batting average. (Jake Arrieta leads at .159; Aaron Nola is fifth at .187 and Vince Velasquez is sixth at .188.)

Wisler was regarded as the Padres' top pitching prospect before being traded on the eve of opening day last year in the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the San Diego Padres. Wisler went on to make 20 appearances (19 starts) with the Braves in 2015 and went 8-8 with a 4.71 ERA in 109 innings, striking out 72, walking 40 and allowing an unsightly 16 home runs.

He faced the Phillies just once, last Aug. 1, and allowed seven runs and two homers in 4⅔ innings. Howard went 3 for 3 in that game with a double. Cameron Rupp and Odubel Herrera homered. In total, the Phillies had five extra-base hits in just 17 at-bats.

Wisler throws five pitches, but goes mostly four-seam fastball (34 percent), two-seam fastball (28 percent) and slider (25 percent). His fastball averages just under 94 mph. He'll also mix in the occasional curveball and changeup.

He's thrown a two-seam fastball (or sinker) on the first pitch to lefties 54 percent of the time this season, a trend the Phillies have surely noticed entering tonight's game. And the slider is by far his most-used pitch with two strikes.

4. Herrera and Franco
Odubel Herrera has been remarkably consistent so far this season and he's in the midst of a hot stretch. Over his last 15 games, Herrera has hit .400 with a .485 on-base percentage, going 22 for 55 with 10 walks. He's scored 14 runs and driven in five.

That impressive two-week run has Herrera's season batting line at .324/.445/.432 in 137 plate appearances. He's now hit .302 with a .365 OBP in 674 MLB plate appearances.

Franco is trending in the other direction, down to .239 with a .286 OBP on the season. But he's at least swinging a bit better of late. In the series opener last Friday in Miami, he lined out sharply in his first at-bat before later doubling and hitting an opposite-field homer. He did go just 1 for 9 the rest of the series.

The Phillies really need to get Franco going, and it's a matter of plate discipline more than anything else. It seems like every time Franco has stepped to the plate lately, the count has been 0-2 or 1-2 before you could blink. Franco has chased a lot of pitches this season and now he's not getting the benefit of the doubt on borderline pitches from the home plate umpire.

Franco is swinging and missing four percent more this season than he did last. His swing percentage is up 5.1 percent and his contact rate is down 5.4 percent.

5. This and that
• Jeanmar Gomez is tied with the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen and the Mets' Jeurys Familia for the MLB lead with 11 saves.

• Hector Neris has 28 strikeouts and six walks on the year. David Hernandez has 23 strikeouts and five walks. The only other reliever in baseball with at least that many K's and no more than six walks is the Yankees' Dellin Betances, with 27 and three.

• The Phillies lost their final four games against the Braves and six of their last seven in 2015. They've lost eight of their last 10 at Turner Field.

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