Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper (3) and Andrew Knapp (5) celebrate after Harper scored the game-winning run on a two-run triple by J.T. Realmuto during the 10th inning of an interleague baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

SGG Pick of the Day, Sept. 28

Mike Shara

Philadelphia (+1.5, +105 on DraftKings) at Atlanta (-1.5, -125 on DraftKings) Over/Under 7.5.

The Phillies and Braves both expected to be competitive in this year’s National League East, but as they face off with the division title on the line here in the final week of the season, I’d bet neither of them thought things would wind up this way. Before the season began Atlanta lost ace pitcher Mike Soroka to a second achilles injury, All-Star outfielder Marcel Ozuna played just 48 games before being suspended for a domestic violence incident and All-World outfielder/lesser-known Avenger Ronald Acuna Jr. was lost for the season with a knee injury in June. Braves G.M. Alex Anthopolous didn’t wave the white flag on the season, though – he bowed his neck, traded for an entirely new starting outfield and his team responded, currently sitting 2 games in front of their division despite being 8 games back in mid-June. AA might be named Executive of the Year for that bold feat of ingenuity. He did take some heat for not upgrading his bullpen, though, and that might hurt Atlanta in the next few weeks.

That said, no one else in Atlanta’s division seemed to want to win the thing either, including the Phillies. In 2020 their bullpen was a nightmare, finishing the season with an ERA of 7.37 (sic). This year they attempted to rectify the problem (did they, though?) by adding Jose Alvarado from Tampa Bay and former D-Backs closer Archie Bradley in the offseason and then trading for Rangers closer Ian Kennedy at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, it has been more of the same this year, making manager Joe Girardi’s hair officially grey now, as opposed to last season’s sexy salt-and-pepper look. This year’s crew of ‘relievers’ have already set a Phillies franchise record for the most blown saves in a season. The Phillies have been around since 1883, so…yeah.

Tuesday’s game features Phillies’ ace Zach Wheeler, who deserves serious Cy Young Award consideration- he leads the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts and is fifth in ERA and WHIP. Atlanta sends Charlie Morton to the bump in opposition. He’s no slouch himself, ranking among the senior circuit’s Top 15 in most key pitching categories. Current Braves hitters have a combined career .261/.349/.410 line vs. Wheeler (which is a bit misleading-see below) and current Phillies players are a combined .286/.383/.404 line vs. Morton.

When the Phillies have been a moneyline underdog in a game Wheeler has started, they are 6-3. The Braves have been a moneyline favorite in 27 of Morton’s 31 starts but are just 13-14 in those games. Wheeler has not allowed more than one earned run in any of his last four starts, though none have lasted more than six innings, leaving his overwhelmed bullpen a lot of outs left to get. Morton has been remarkably consistent lately, with his ERA only changing from 3.52 to 3.53 during his last 8 starts (48 innings).

THE PICK: I like the PHILLIES to cover the spread and even win this game outright. Bryce Harper has been Clue Heywood to Morton’s Ricky Vaughn in their previous meetings (.412/.545/.706 in 22 plate appearances) and Harper is on a mission right now, trying to single-handedly will Philadelphia to the promised land and solidify his case for National League MVP. Also, I just couldn’t bring myself to bet against Wheeler tonight. Any success Braves hitters have had against him was when he was a young pitcher with the Mets. He is clearly a different, much more consistent pitcher now and he has a 1.35 ERA in 26 innings vs. Atlanta so far this season. Neither Morton or Wheeler has shown much ability to pitch past the sixth inning this season, so that could leave at least 18 combined outs for their beleaguered bullpens to cover. This game could get ugly late, so I might also TAKE THE OVER.

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