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Can the Phillies overtake the Braves in the NL East? They believe, as Atlanta churns its roster.

Scott Lauber, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

PHILADELPHIA — The first time around, the Braves discovered that the Phillies were like an object in the rearview mirror: Closer than they appear.

When it happened again, the Phillies were in the Braves’ blind spot.

Does anyone doubt that they have a chance now to zoom past Atlanta — maybe with Bryce Harper rolling down the window and waving to Orlando Arcia?

The Phillies definitely believe. Never mind that they finished 14 games behind the Braves in each of the last two seasons. They vanquished their chief rival in back-to-back divisional-round playoff series, proving the canyon between them in the regular season is more like a crevice.

Now, consider how the teams have acted in the offseason. The Braves burst out of the free-agent gates with a $162 million offer to poach Aaron Nola, a source said last month. But the Phillies sprung for $172 million over seven years to make sure the homegrown No. 2 starter ever goes to Truist Park only as a visitor.

Since then, the Braves have churned their 40-man roster, trading nine players and non-tendering seven. They’ve added to the bullpen with Reynaldo López, Aaron Bummer, and Penn Murfee; traded for young left fielder Jarred Kelenic; and continued to explore the market for starting pitching.

 

The Phillies, meanwhile, are patiently working to improve the margins of the roster, comfortable with returning the vast majority of last season’s team.

“I think part of it,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said this past week from a fifth-floor suite at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., before leaving the Gaylord Opryland Resort emptyhanded, “is that we have a good club.”

As good as the Braves? Quite possibly.

Dombrowski is quick to note that the Phillies are entering their first full season with Harper at first base. He began playing first in July, a move that improved the outfield defense by opening the designated hitter spot for Kyle Schwarber. But Harper made only 36 regular-season starts at first. The Phillies went 21-15 in those games, a 95-win pace.

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