Braves blanked in series opener at Philadelphia

AP photo by Matt Slocum / The Philadelphia Phillies' J.T. Realmuto runs behind Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud to score on a sacrifice fly by Matt Vierling in the second inning of Thursday's game. It was the lone run of the night.

PHILADELPHIA — Ranger Suárez pitched six sparkling innings, and the Philadelphia Phillies continued their push toward the club's first playoff berth in a decade with a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.

Matt Vierling knocked in the only run in this matchup of National League East Division teams with a sacrifice fly to center field that scored J.T. Realmuto in the second inning.

Suárez allowed five hits, struck out four batters and walked two. Zach Eflin got five outs before José Alvarado finished the six-hitter for his second save this year.

"I just focused on throwing quality pitches," said Suárez, who did not figure in the decision in his previous start against Atlanta last week. "That's the main thing. It's really tough when you face the same lineup back to back. We knew coming in that it would be like that, but I had a good plan with J.T."

Philadelphia (82-67), third in the division behind the New York Mets and the second-place Braves, moved within a half-game of the San Diego Padres for the NL's second wild-card spot in the postseason and remained 2 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the final playoff berth. The Phillies also hold the season series edge over the Brewers, which is the tiebreaker between the teams this year after Major League Baseball eliminated the single-game tiebreaker under its expanded playoff format.

"It was a tight game with a lot of pressure, and they came through," Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said. "Ranger was as cool as a cucumber and just pitched like we've seen in the past. He was tremendous.

"Nothing in the game bothers Eflin. And we wanted to see by the end of the year if Alvarado could pitch the ninth and more than one inning, and he did that tonight."

The Braves (93-57), the reigning World Series champions who are seeking a fifth straight NL East title, fell 1 1/2 games behind the idle Mets. The two teams meet in Atlanta next week for the final three scheduled games against each other this season. Both have clinched playoff berths, and the Braves are presently seeded as the NL's top wild card.

Atlanta played without outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who was scratched because of back tightness.

The Braves threatened in the sixth, loading the bases with two outs, but Suárez escaped the jam when he retired rookie Michael Harris II on a grounder to first. Eflin and Alvarado combined to finish the Phillies' 14th shutout of the season.

"Ranger is good, and he came out throwing a lot of strikes," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "And we couldn't get anything going."

Braves starter Max Fried (13-7) struck out eight batters in five innings. Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley had three hits.

"It's a really good lineup, and when you face them in back-to-back starts, they are going to grind out at-bats," Fried said. "I would have loved to have been more efficient and gone deeper in the game."

Both teams were affected by high cross-field winds. Two potential home-run balls — one by Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins, and one by Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna — were knocked down at the warning track in left field by the 17 mph winds.

The four-game series continues Friday night with right-handers scheduled to start on the mound: Aaron Nola (9-12, 3.38 ERA) of the Phillies will oppose Atlanta's Jake Odorizzi (5-5, 4.04 ERA).

The Braves said right-hander Mike Soroka will be shut down for the rest of the season due to right elbow inflammation. Snitker said there was no structural damage in Soroka's elbow and he will gear toward returning for the 2023 season.