3 key storylines for Braves, Phils in NLDS Game 4

October 12th, 2023

As fun as this postseason has been -- and how it already has an all-timer of an October highlight with the the first 8-5-3 double play in playoff history that ended Game 2 of the Braves-Phillies National League Division Series -- one thing we haven’t seen yet is a decisive win-or-go-home game for both teams. Frankly, we’ve only had two series so far that weren’t a sweep! And now there is only one Division Series left. It is perhaps not a coincidence that it’s the one many thought would be the tightest series heading in.

On Thursday night, the Braves will try to force the first decisive Game 5, and they’ll have to do it in Philadelphia, a city that has been a house of horrors for them the past two postseasons, in a ballpark that might provide the best home-field advantage MLB has ever seen. Will they keep their season alive and give us our first dual elimination game? Here’s a look at three big storylines in the lone remaining Division Series game on Thursday night.

Braves at Phillies
Phillies lead 2-1
Spencer Strider vs. Ranger Suárez
8:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Storyline No. 1: Is history really going to repeat itself for the Braves?

It is becoming legitimately unnerving how many parallels there have been between this year’s Braves-Phillies NLDS and last year’s Braves-Phillies NLDS. Atlanta was, again, exactly 14 games better than Philadelphia in the regular season but found its home-field advantage quickly snatched away. The Braves took the lead late in Game 2 to even the series. And in Game 3, Aaron Nola was (again) sharp for Philly, while a young Braves pitcher got knocked around early, putting the game far out of reach before the NL East champs knew what hit them. A Citizens Bank Park crowd made noise that surely shook the ground miles away.

And just like that, a 100-plus-wins Braves season is on the brink. Last year, the Phillies took an early lead in Game 4 and breezed to an upset victory. Strider, the young pitcher who struggled in last year’s Game 3 but was terrific in this year’s Game 1 (albeit in a loss), will now try to reverse the course of history. But the déjà vu is extremely strong.

Storyline No. 2: Is the best-hitting lineup of all time ever going to show up?

OK, maybe not the best of all time, but the Braves have certainly been one of the best top-to-bottom offenses in recent baseball history, setting the MLB record for slugging percentage while tying it for home runs. This offense has been streamrolling teams all year, essentially from the season’s first week. The 2023 Braves, more than anything, have been relentless; this lineup has two MVP candidates and no easy outs at the bottom of the lineup. And then this series began, and Atlanta turned into a Dead Ball Era team. The Braves have scored a total of seven runs in three games, and five of them happened over a three-inning stretch at the end of Game 2 … the only reason they’re still playing baseball right now.

The Braves have put up a .196/.257/.268 batting line in this series. Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies have one extra-base hit combined. Atlanta's bats came alive for three innings of this series, but the other 24? Nada.

Storyline No. 3: Would anyone dare pitch to Bryce Harper again?

There have been many, many postseason highlights over the last two Octobers, but when you close your eyes and picture the first one that comes to mind … isn’t it Harper launching a ball deep into the Philadelphia night? The Citizens Bank Park crowd has been a roaring, soaring revelation for two consecutive postseasons, and Harper has been its undeniable avatar, a primal scream of joyous dominance just about every time he comes to the plate.

These are individual baseball games, and we all know the saying that momentum is as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. But goodness, the Phillies, well, they have vibes right now. They turned the page on what could have been a soul-crushing Game 2 loss like it was nothing, like it never happened, with Harper leading the way with a pair of massive dingers (along with a pair of memorable staredowns). The Phils, no matter what the regular-season record says, look untouchable right now. In that park, in front of that crowd, with Harper on the heater he is on … they might be.