Does Atlanta Braves Ace’s Injury Make Philadelphia Phillies NL East Favorite?

The Atlanta Braves are dealing with a major injury to its top starting pitcher, but is it too early to make the Philadelpha Phillies a division favorite?
Mar 29, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99)
Mar 29, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider (99) / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The Philadelphia Phillies entered this week below .500, but were able to get back level after their extra innings win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. The Phillies are in solid health this early in the season as its NL East rival is grappling with a major injury.

The Atlanta Braves — who have won the last six NL East Division titles — are worried about the elbow of their top starter, Spencer Strider. The Braves moved him to their 15-day injured list on Sunday after an MRI revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

It’s the sort of injury that could force Strider, who won 20 games and struck out 281 hitters last season, to have Tommy John surgery, though the Braves are hopeful that won’t be the case. Strider is seeking another evaluation from Dr. Keith Meister, one of the top surgeons in the field who also happens to be the team surgeon of the Texas Rangers.

It might lead one to believe that this injury makes Atlanta vulnerable and could push Philadelphia — who finished second to the Braves last season and have beaten them in each of the last two postseasons — into becoming the new favorite in the NL East.

Well, not so fast, says The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, who was also a former MLB general manager.

He believes it would be an overreaction to install the Phillies as the favorites now.

For starters, he still believes that Atlanta has a better offense and defense than Philadelphia. He writes that the projected rotation without Strider — Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Chris Sale, Reynaldo López and either AJ Smith-Shawver or Bryce Elder — is still strong enough to win the division.

Bowden also heaped praise on what he called the Braves' "deep" bullpen. He also noted that they have the assets to make a trade for a starting pitcher if needed.

The Phillies are off to another slow start this season, but it’s something they’ve overcome each of the past two years. The bullpen isn’t at full strength yet, as Orion Kerkering works his way back from an injury that curtailed his build-up for the season. Starter Taijuan Walker is on course for a May return from a right shoulder impingement.

It’s probably too early to remove the Braves as the NL East favorites. But it’s also too early to rule the Phillies out, either.  

Matt Postins