Much like the Braves are building around young pillars Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies, the Phillies are orchestrating their future around Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery.
And the difference at the top of the National League East so far is one pairing’s success against the other’s growing pains.
Hoskins burst onto the scene in August, hammering a record 11 home runs in his first 18 games. He finished with 18 homers and 48 RBIs in just 50 games.
The success hasn’t sustained through 2018. Hoskins is hitting .128 (10-for-78) with 31 strikeouts in his past 21 contests. The left fielder’s hitting .237 overall, with six homers and 27 RBIs.
Kingery debuted this season with the Phillies. The 24-year-old, who agreed to a six-year deal with the Phillies in late March, has hit .217 with a .604 OPS. He’s mainly a shortstop, but has played second, third and all three outfield positions.
Still, the Phillies’ lengthy rebuild is reliant on Hoskins and Kingery as core players, just as the Braves need Acuna and Albies to drag them out of the depths of futility.
The players have had ample opportunity to study each other. By the end of Wednesday, the Braves and Phillies will have played 12 times.
In other words, 25 percent of the Braves’ games will have come against their Pennsylvania rivals.
“They’re talented,” Hoskins said. “Then you sprinkle in guys like Freddie Freeman, (Nick) Markakis, (Kurt) Suzuki, that can kind of get the ship going in the right direction for some of the guys who have a little less experience. It’s a pretty good combination to have.”
The Braves led the Phillies by 1-1/2 games entering Wednesday’s series finale. The Braves were 7-4 against the Phillies before the game, taking two of three in the previous three series.
“Solid team,” Kingery said. “It’s comparable to us because of how young and talented they are. You can see with Acuna coming up, and Albies, then you got the veteran guys like Freeman and Markakis who’ve been around a long time, it’s a good team and it’s fun to play against them. It’s a competitive game every time.”
The Braves’ first-place positioning exists largely thanks to Albies’ bat.
Albies, 21, leads the National League with 31 extra-base hits and is tied for the home-run lead with Bryce Harper (14). While Acuna has struggled since May 4 with a .197 average, his timely hitting, defense and speed have helped him impact games.
When in late-game pressure situations, qualified as after the seventh inning with the team down three or fewer, tied or up one, Acuna has hit .455 with a homer and three RBIs.
The Phillies’ youngsters have taken note.
“You can see with both of them, they’re really confident,” Hoskins said of Acuna and Albies. “They’re really confident right now. Then you mix in the talent they have with that confidence and special things happen.”
Kingery tried to guess Acuna’s age – 19 or 20. He’s been impressed with their production at such young ages.
With how baseball’s trending, Kingery debuting at 24 almost feels old. He pointed out Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, who recently debuted at 19. Kingery doesn’t have an explanation for the game’s newfound aggressiveness in promoting prospects.
“I’m not sure why it’s trending that way, but you can see the type of talent, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Guys have elite talent and they’re putting it together at a young age. If you have that type of talent that can help the team, you want to get them up as soon as possible.”
Kingery was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft, when Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson went No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks.
The Phillies infielder saw Swanson slump through much of 2017, eventually being demoted to the minors. Swanson was having a strong rebound campaign before a wrist injury slowed him down.
Kingery had been using it as a learning opportunity.
“What he went through last year, and to be able to turn it around and come out and play well this year is something that I can look at in times I’m struggling,” Kingery said. “It happens to a lot of young players in their first days in the big leagues. You get to the point you might struggle but you keep fighting through it and continue on your path and figure it out.”
Hoskins, 25, echoed the Braves’ recent comments that there are striking similarities between the two franchises.
“You can see it,” he said. “Obviously Freeman, Markakis, those guys have been around baseball a long time and have been successful. But you can also see the younger ‘core’ coming into effect. I think we have something similar here.
“Anytime you get to play a good team, you get excited as a competitor. This is the fourth time we’ve played these guys, and it’s been fun.”
The Braves and Phillies have always played tightly. Since the inception of the current NL East in 1994, the Braves’ .531 winning percentage against the Phillies is its worst versus any divisional opponent.
The Phillies have won just seven season-series against the Braves in that span, including last season. But with both franchises stocked with young talent and financial flexibility, they’re a good bet to stick around the playoff race for years to come.
They’ll face off seven more times in 2018, but not again until Sept. 20. The Braves face the Phillies in seven of their final 10 games.
“Every time we play them it’s competitive,” Kingery said. “I don’t know what the scores have been, but I think it’s only been a couple games separated by more than two runs. It’s a ballgame all the way through until the ninth inning. Every time we play them, I think there’s a little extra hype because of the way both of us are playing. It’s just fun to face them.”