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Braves look to bounce back, even series with Phillies

PHILADELPHIA — Instead of October, it must feel like Groundhog Day for the Atlanta Braves.

After winning a league-best 104 games in the regular season, the Braves find themselves on the precipice of elimination in the National League Division Series at the hands of the Phillies, in Philadelphia. Just like last year.

The Braves must win Game 4 on Thursday night to bring the best-of-five series back to Atlanta for a winner-take-all showdown on Saturday.

They’ll send out NL Cy Young Award candidate Spencer Strider (0-1, 1.29 ERA) to face Phillies left-hander Ranger Suarez (0-0, 0.00) in a rematch of Game 1. The Braves have Max Fried lined up for a potential Game 5.

“If we can’t win one of those two games, or both of those games, with those guys. … I feel pretty good with the next two starters that we got,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

The Phillies hammered six home runs on Wednesday night, including two apiece from Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, to win Game 3 in a blowout 10-2 and take a 2-1 series lead.

The hype around “Red October” in Philadelphia is back after the Phillies overcame a difficult loss in Game 2. Atlanta rallied from a 4-0 deficit for a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning before ending the game on an 8-5-3 double play, in which Bryce Harper was caught too far from first base to double back in time.

Turns out, that was just what the Phillies needed as the series shifted home.

“I think that the way (Game 2) ended in Atlanta was perfect, because I think that that jolt of emotion and kind of seeing them really celebrate kind of set the tone for this game,” Castellanos said.

“You know, rather than let’s say if Bryce would have got back and we would have worked it and we would have just lost it — I don’t want to say a ‘normal’ way because there’s never a normal way to lose a game, but like, having that exclamation point on the loss I think was perfect for our group of guys.”

Harper also had some personal motivation after it was reported that Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia was celebrating the baserunning mistake in the clubhouse after the game, saying, “Atta boy, Harper.”

Harper stared the shortstop down each time he rounded the bases Wednesday.

“Anytime anybody says something, right?” Harper said. “I mean, that’s what it’s all about.”

Arcia was not happy his gloating leaked out.

“No, (Harper) wasn’t supposed to hear it,” Arcia told NBC Sports Philadelphia through a translator. “That’s why we were talking in the clubhouse.”

Harper had four RBIs and Brandon Marsh finished with three hits. Castellanos hit two solo shots after entering the game with one career postseason homer.

Strider allowed a Harper home run in Game 1, a 3-0 Phillies win. Strider pitched seven strong innings, allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and struck out eight.

Baseball’s only 20-game winner in the regular season, Strider is a remarkable 8-0 in eight regular-season appearances against Philadelphia (seven starts), with a 1.90 ERA and 72 strikeouts. He has an 0-2 record in two playoff starts against the Phillies, however, with an ERA of 5.79.

Needless to say, Thursday will be the biggest game of the 24-year-old’s life.

“When I was a kid, I was out in the front yard just pretending I was pitching in the World Series. I think that’s kind of what a lot of kids’ journey is like,” Strider said. “Nobody wants to come into the game in a regular-season game in June. You’re always preparing or visualizing yourself in the biggest games in the biggest moments. Like I said, the energy and the adrenaline is good for you, if you can harness it.”

Suarez yielded one hit and one walk in 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1, fanning four. He also had a start against the Braves last October in the playoffs, allowing one run in 3 1/3 innings. He’s 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 16 regular-season games (seven starts) against Atlanta.

–Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

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