Phillies vs. Braves score, takeaways: Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola push defending champs to brink in NLDS

The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Atlanta Braves 9-1 on Friday in Game 3 of their National League Division Series. The Phillies now lead the best-of-five set, 2-1, heading into Saturday’s Game 4. Another win and Philadelphia will advance to the NL Championship Series for the right to play for the pennant against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Diego Padres.

The third inning proved to be the key to the game. The Phillies had not mustered a baserunner through the first two frames against Atlanta rookie Spencer Strider. Their fortunes changed right away, as Brandon Marsh worked a four-pitch walk. Jean Segura struck out, but his double-play partner Bryson Stott then endured a lengthy, nine-pitch at-bat before hitting a double to right field that opened up the scoring.

The Braves would intentionally walk Kyle Schwarber, a move that would backfire immediately. That’s because Strider delivered a lame-duck fastball down the middle that Rhys Hoskins drilled for a three-run home run.

Just like that, the Phillies led 4-0. They weren’t done there, however. Strider nearly was, as he’d exit after giving up a single to Nick Castellanos on the next pitch he threw. Lefty reliever Dylan Lee would enter and — wouldn’t you know it — give up a home run of his own to Bryce Harper on the first pitch of his night.

The Phillies, up 6-0 at that point, were in complete control. That wouldn’t change the rest of the way.

Here are four things to know about the Phillies’ win.

1. Strider returns if apart

As mentioned in the introduction, most of the Phillies’ damage came against Strider. While he had been one of the top young starters in the majors during the regular season, he hadn’t pitched since Sept. 18 because of an oblique injury. Strider wasn’t even officially named the Game 3 starter until Friday morning.

Strider started the game well enough, but it became clear that he was losing steam as he struggled to put away Stott based on his wavering command and slipping velocity:

What’s more is that the home-run pitch Strider threw to Hoskins happened to be the slowest fastball of his career, an indication that he wasn’t right.

Given that Strider was presumed to be on a tight pitch count, it was surprising to see nobody warming behind him until after the Phillies had gotten on the board. Manager Brian Snitker explained his thinking after the game, suggesting he wanted Strider to get through four innings of work. “As good as he was throwing, we thought we could skate him through.”

Who knows, perhaps a quicker hook for Strider would’ve made no difference and the Phillies’ bats would’ve scorched whomever was on the mound when Hoskins and Harper walked to the plate. But heading into Game 4, the decision to start and stick by Strider on Friday might end up being a regret for Snitker and the Braves if they lose the series.

2. Nola shoves

Strider had a disaster start. How about his counterpart?

Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola threw 6 2/3 shutout innings in his Wild Card Series start against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first playoff appearance of his career. Hey didn’t quite match that effort on Friday, but he did give the Phillies another high-quality start.

Indeed, Nola worked into the seventh inning, departing after giving up a leadoff single to Orlando Arcia. His final line saw him toss six innings of one-run (unearned) ball, surrendering five hits and two walks while punching out six batters on 90 pitches. That means Nola has not allowed an earned run in 12 2/3 innings of October ball.

It should be noted that Nola’s velocity and spin rates were up on all his pitches compared to his seasonal norms. He generated 15 whiffs on 44 pitches, including eight on his spike curveball. Additionally 11 of Nola’s 15 batted balls were grounders.

Add it all up, and the Phillies have to be thrilled with Nola’s month to date.

3. What history says about the Phillies’ 2-1 lead

According to our Dayn Perry’s research, teams who have taken a 2-1 lead in the LDS round have historically won the series around 75 percent of the time. That speaks to the significance of having two tries to close out the series, and it suggests that the Phillies are in good position to advance to the next round, be it in four or five games.

4. What’s next

The Phillies will look to eliminate the defending champion Braves and punch their tickets to the NL Championship Series on Saturday with a victory in Game 4. It’ll be a matchup of veteran right-handers Charlie Morton will get the nod for Atlanta for his18th career postseason appearance; Philadelphia wants counter with Noah Syndergaard. First pitch is set for 2:07 pm ET.

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