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Just How Good Are The Phillies? Weekend With First-Place Braves May Provide Answers

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- If it's not pitching that lets the Phillies down, they're being shutout by a 30-year-old rookie named Merrill Kelly. If it's not hitting that lets the Phillies down, it's a pitching staff that's surrendered 109 homers, including eight in the Phillies' 13-8 loss to Arizona on June 10.

The Phillies sit in second place entering a crucial June weekend series in Atlanta, the defending National League East champions. The Braves (40-29) have won seven straight and sit 1.5 games ahead of the Phillies, who have lost three of their last four games.

The Phillies (38-30) will count on Nick Pivetta (4-1, 4.93 ERA, 37 strikeouts) on Friday night in the series opener. Pivetta has been the surprise of the Phillies' staff lately, giving up four runs over his last 20 innings.

Pivetta beat the Braves earlier this season in a game that was more the offense carrying him to an 8-6 win on March 30. When Pivetta faced the Dodgers, he wasn't given the chance to continue after going six strong in yielding three hits.

Pivetta will be matched against Braves' left-handed starter Max Fried (7-3, 3.75 ERA, 66 strikeouts). Over his last nine starts, Fried's posted a 5.09 ERA.

Things hopefully will look even better on Saturday, when Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.58 ERA, 86 strikeouts) faces Sean Newcomb (1-0, 2.59 ERA, 26 strikeouts). This will be Newcomb's first start since being moved to the bullpen because of pitch command issues.

Over his last nine starts, Nola is 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA. The Phillies could conceivably win the opening two games of the series, considering the pitching matchups.

Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz halted his home run woes in his last outing, but he issued four walks and saw his home ERA rise to 7.18 (six starts). He has been unable to find a feel for the slider, which was his primary weapon during last year's All-Star campaign. He'll go for the Braves in the series finale on Sunday.

The Phillies have not named a Sunday starter.

On May 9, the Braves were 18-20. Since then, they've gone 22-9, which includes their current seven-game winning streak.

Over their last 10 games, the Braves are 8-2. The Phillies are 5-5 in that span, with an offense that's underachieved and a bullpen that's been a walking kerosene can at times, waiting to ignite.

This weekend may provide some answers as to just how good the 2019 Phillies are.

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