Next up for the Phillies: A Braves team in a similar spot

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The Phillies are, without question, in the midst of the most difficult portion of their 2022 schedule.

They just wrapped up a 2-4 homestand with the Padres and Dodgers, who entered Sunday with the top two records in the National League. Now, the Phils hit the road for a seven-game NL East trip through Atlanta and New York.

After the Braves and Mets, the Phillies face the Giants, Angels, and Brewers, who are a combined 73-48.

The schedule finally softens in mid-June with five games against the Nationals and two against the Rangers, all on the road, but keep in mind the Rangers took both games at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. Based on how the Phillies have played down to their competition the last two seasons, there are few series or games that you can pencil in ahead of time as wins.

First comes the all-important week of NL East matchups. The Phillies have not yet faced the Braves, who are off to the same sort of start as they are. The reigning champs have been above .500 just once this season when they were 2-1. Both clubs are 19-22.

The biggest difference with Atlanta, obviously, is no Freddie Freeman, who the Phillies just saw seven times in 10 days with the Dodgers. First baseman Matt Olson leads the majors in doubles but there's really no replacing Freeman, an MVP, champion and probably future Hall of Famer.

The Braves entered Sunday hitting .225 on the season with a .299 on-base percentage. Few players have hit. Ozzie Albies is batting .239 with a .291 OBP. Austin Riley is hitting .224, Dansby Swanson .229, Marcell Ozuna .225 and Adam Duvall .199.

Ronald Acuña Jr. returned on April 28 from a torn ACL last July. He has appeared in 15 games, missing time from May 11-16 with a groin injury. Acuña has been an on-base machine, reaching 21 times in his last eight games.

In Atlanta, the Phillies will see each Braves starting pitcher except Ian Anderson, who pitched Sunday in Miami. 

In Game 1, they'll face left-hander Tucker Davidson, who won his first big-league game on Tuesday in Milwaukee with five scoreless innings.

The Phils face another lefty in Game 2 in Max Fried, who has established himself as one of the best in the NL. In eight starts, Fried is 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He's struck out 47 and walked six in 49 innings.

Game 3 brings a familiar foe in Charlie Morton. The Phillies are 2-3 against Morton since he joined the Braves in 2021. He has pitched very well in three of the starts and lasted two-thirds of an inning in another, allowing six unearned runs.

In the finale, the Phils see Kyle Wright, who has broken out for the Braves early in 2022. Wright was the fifth overall pick in 2017, three spots ahead of Adam Haseley. The 26-year-old righty is 4-2 with a 2.49 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 56 in 47 innings and been taken deep just twice.

The Phils have Zack Wheeler, Kyle Gibson, Ranger Suarez and Aaron Nola going, in that order.

When finished with the Braves, the Phils have another series with the Mets, their fourth already. After May 29, the Phillies do not see the Mets again until Aug. 12. The final two series take place Aug. 12-14 and Aug. 19-21.

While the Mets continue to win and hold an eight-game lead over the Phillies and Braves, this could be the time to face them. Jacob deGrom is still out with a shoulder injury, Max Scherzer is going to be out at least another five or six weeks with an oblique strain and Tylor Megill is down with a biceps injury. Megill played catch on Friday but won't be ready to return in time for the Phillies series. That's a pretty big deal seeing as he pitched 10⅓ scoreless innings against the Phils earlier this season and held them to 3 hits in 32 at-bats.

The Phillies are tentatively set to face Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker in the first two games of that series with Zach Eflin, Wheeler and Gibson scheduled to pitch.

While the Phillies-Mets three-game set takes place on Memorial Day weekend, it will already be a crucial weekend series. The Phils really cannot afford to fall farther back in the NL East or else they'd be facing a double-digit deficit as June begins. There will still be plenty of time to make up such a deficit, but the lack of head-to-heads will make it more difficult.

"We're giving them way too many opportunities," Jean Segura said after the Mets last left town on May 8. "I feel like in every series with them, we've had a chance to win every game."

The Phils are 3-6 so far in the season series.

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