Only 10 days remain in the 2021 MLB regular season and the NL East race is alive and well. On Thursday, the Braves blew a late lead against the Diamondbacks (ARI 6, ATL 4) while the Phillies rallied for a big come from behind win against the Pirates (PHI 12, PIT 6). Philadelphia picked up a game in the standings and is two games behind Atlanta in the division.
Here are the updated NL East standings:
- Braves: 80-71
- Phillies: 79-74 (2.0 GB)
- Mets: 73-79 (7.5 GB)
- Marlins: 64-88 (16.5 GB)
- Nationals: 64-89 (17.0 GB)
Truth be told, neither the Braves nor the Phillies have impressed lately. Atlanta is 10-10 in September while the Phillies are only 11-10. This isn’t an NL West-esque battle, where the Dodgers and Giants are pushing each other hard and winning seemingly every day. The NL East is two teams seemingly trying to give away the division, but the other isn’t taking it.
Here’s what you need to know about Thursday’s NL East action.
Atlanta’s blown lead
The D-Backs are extremely bad and the Braves treated them appropriately in the first three games of their three-game series. They won all three games and outscored Arizona 26-7. The Braves took a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning Thursday and appeared to be on their way to another easy win, but things quickly unraveled.
Staff ace Charlie Morton allowed back-to-back singles to begin the seventh, then reliever Jacob Webb surrendered a game-tying three-run home run to Carson Kelly. Outfielder Daulton Varsho, who got the D-Backs on the board with a fifth inning single, doubled home a run later in the seventh to give Arizona the lead.
After the D-Backs took the lead, the final six Braves batters made outs. Arizona is on pace to lose 110 games this season, but Atlanta beat them only four times in seven tries. Failing to bank wins against a bad D-Backs team is one reason the Braves don’t have a larger division lead with less than two weeks remaining in the season.
Philadelphia’s huge comeback
Things did not start well for the Phillies and erstwhile ace Aaron Nola on Thursday. Not at all. Nola gave up five runs in the top of the second inning, including a three-run home run to rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes. Colin Moran hit a solo home run in the third to give the last place Pirates a 6-0 lead. To call it a disappointing start following the Braves loss earlier in the day would be an understatement.
The comeback started in the bottom of the third. The Phillies sent nine men to the plate and scored five runs, turning the 6-0 deficit into a 6-5 deficit with six innings to play. Andrew McCutchen doubled in a run and Brad Miller snuck a single through the infield as part of that rally. In the sixth, Philadelphia took the lead on a Ronald Torreyes three-run home run.
Torreyes went into Thursday’s game with 10 home runs in just under 1,000 career plate appearances. Power is not his game, not at all, yet that just might be single biggest hit of the Phillies season. JT Realmuto socked a two-run home run later in the game to give Philadelphia some insurance. They scored 12 unanswered runs after falling behind 6-0.
Big series on tap next week
For the Phillies, Thursday night was the first game of a four-game series with the Pirates. The Braves, meanwhile, are done with the D-Backs and now go to San Diego for three games against a Padres team that is crashing hard. That said, a team with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado can not be dismissed. The Braves can’t afford to see their NL East lead shrink any more.
The Phillies and Braves both have an off-day Monday, then they’ll play three games at Truist Park next week. There is no scenario in which the Braves can clinch the division title this weekend, so the Phillies will go into that series next week mathematically alive in the NL East. Ideally they’d pick up at least one game this weekend, otherwise they would go into next week’s series needing a sweep to pass Atlanta. The Phillies are 9-7 against the Braves this season, though they’ve lost four of six at Truist Park.