The Phillies and Braves may be the two best teams in baseball right now and they will square off this weekend in the final series before the all-star break. If you haven’t been paying attention to the standings, you would think that the Phillies have widened their gap in the division based on their play over the last month. But the Braves have played just as good if not better than the Phightin’s and have cut the gap in the NL East to just 2.5 games. People like to over dramatize series before the break but this series is worth all of the talk. It could be the start of the Phillies running away with the division or the start of an epic division battle.
The Phillies have had their fair share of injury problems during the 1st half and the all star break looks to have come at a great time. They are currently on their 4th closer of the season as they have their top 3 relievers on the DL. In addition to Lidge, Contreras and Madson, the Phightin’s also have 2 starters on the DL with injuries which has sent Kyle Kendrick from the pen to the rotation. They may also be without their only two position player all-stars in Polanco and Victorino. Shane was placed on the DL this afternoon and Polanco has missed the last two games with a back injury. The Phillies have called up Phan Phavorite (or maybe just me) Pete Orr to take Shane’s place on the roster. The only two reliable relievers left in the pen are the young but talented Bastardo and Stutes.
Even with all of the injuries, the Phillies are still been playing great baseball right now. They have been the mark of overall consistency as they haven’t swept a lot of teams but they have consistently won series after. The Phillies enter the series with the Braves with a 55-33 record and are 2.5 games north of ATL for the NL East lead.
“This is a big series,” Charlie Manuel said. “We’ve just got to go in there and play like we’ve been playing.”
Meet the Braves
Atlanta enters the series as one of the hottest teams in baseball. They have won their last 4 games and have won 9 of their last 10. The Braves are currently 53-36 and are 2.5 games behind the Phillies in the division. They are one of the team’s whose pitchers can at least be in the ball park with the Phillies pitching. Their staff (3.02) currently has a slightly better staff ERA than the Phillies (3.05). They are 1st in the majors in BAA, tied for 2nd in shutouts and tied for 3rd in strikeouts. The Phillies hold the advantage in the rotation (Starters ERA: Phillies 2.99, Braves 3.23) but the Braves have had a slightly better bullpen (Bullpen ERA: Braves 2.64, Phillies 3.23). The Phillies will miss the Braves best starter and arguably the best starter in baseball this season Jair Jurrjens. He is 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 16 starts this season.
Just like the Phillies, the Braves offense has struggled to score runs so far this season. The Braves offense ranks just 17th in baseball in runs scored, 16th in slugging and 26th in average. Their offensive inconsistency is largely due to the play of young Jayson Heyward and slugging 2nd baseman Dan Uggla. The 21 year old Heyward has been limited to just 66 games by injuries, but he is batting just .233 with 9 homeruns and 22 RBI’s on the season. Uggla was a key offseason addition by Atlanta but hasn’t lived up to the hype. His performance makes Ibanez’s first half look like his 2009 1st half, Uggla is batting .183 with a 14 homeruns and 32 RBI’s. A large reason for the Braves recent surge is due to their rookie 1st baseman Freddie Freeman. Over the last 7 days, he is batting .364 with a 4 homeruns and 8 RBI’s. Keeping him in check will be a crucial part in winning this series. The Braves also have perennial all-star’s in catcher Brian McCann and the always popular Chipper “Larry” Jones.
Friday July 8, 7:05: RHP Roy Halladay vs. RHP Brandon Beachy
Doc is coming off of an emotional weekend in Toronto against his former team. He got the win as he pitched a complete game as he gave up 3 runs on 8 hits. The Phillies are now 9-0 in Halladay’s last 9 starts. That is the definition of what a team’s ace should do, they need to be the stopper of losing streaks and go out and win ball games. Halladay is now 11-3 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 18 starts this season. He has made one start against the Braves this season; he went 8 innings and allowed 3 runs in a 3-2 Phillies loss in Atlanta. In his 5 career starts versus the Braves (6 games), he is 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA. Current Braves hitters are a combined 45-168 (.268) while facing Halladay during their careers.
The Braves are forced to send their 5th starter to oppose the Phillies ace later today. Brandon Beachy has pitched very well this season despite missing some time with an injury earlier in the season. He is 2-0 and has given up just 5 runs in his last 3 starts since returning from the DL. In 11 starts this season, he is 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. He was forced to leave his last start against the Phillies with an injury, in that game he went just 2 innings and gave up 3 runs on 6 hits. Beachy has started 4 games against the Phillies during his career, in those games he is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA. All 4 of those starts have come at Turner Field and tonight’s game will be his first at Citizens Bank Park during his career. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 17-53 (.321) while facing Beachy during their careers.
Saturday July 9, 4:10: LHP Cliff Lee vs. RHP Tommy Hanson
Cliff Lee’s scoreless streak game to an end on Sunday afternoon and then everything fell apart during the 8th. The Phillies scored 4 early runs on Jay’s starter Jo-Jo Reyes but the Blue Jays battled back to cut it to 4-3 in the 8th. They then went on to score 4 runs on 3 homeruns and sent Lee to the showers early. Lee received the loss while giving up 6 earned runs on 10 hits. He is now 9-6 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 18 starts this season. In his 10 home starts this season, Lee is 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA. Clifton has struggled while facing the Braves during his career. In his 5 starts against them, he is just 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA. Current Braves hitters are a combined 23-86 (.267) while facing Lee during their careers.
While Jurrjens might be having the best season among Braves pitchers, I think Tommy Hanson is the best pitcher on the team. The 25 year old rightly has electric stuff and can dominate any lineup on any given day. The one thing keeping him from being considered one of the games best, is not being able to go deep into games. He has failed to pitch more than 7 innings so far this season and averages around just 6 innings per start. Hanson is 10-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP through 16 starts this season. He has made 6 career starts against the Phillies during his career, in those starts he is 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA. In his 2 starts at the Bank during his career, he is 0-1 with a 1.13 ERA. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 18-80 (.225) while facing Hanson during their careers.
Sunday July 10, 1:35: LHP Cole Hamels vs. RHP Derek Lowe
The Phillies moved Cole up to Worley’s spot in the rotation so he could get an extra start before the all-star break. His right hand didn’t seem to affect him during his start on Tuesday night. Cole pitched 8 strong innings while only allowing 2 runs in a 14-2 Phillies win. He is now 10-4 with a 2.40 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 18 starts this season. In his only start against Atlanta this season, he received a no decision and gave up 4 runs in 6 innings in a 5-4 Phillies win. Cole has made 22 career starts versus the Braves, in those starts he is 10-6 with a 3.83 ERA. Current Braves hitters are a combined 46-193 (.238) while facing Hamels during their careers.
The 38 year old veteran Derek Lowe has had another poor start to the season. Last year, Lowe struggled during the 1st half of the season (4.35 ERA) only to bounce back with a solid 2nd half (3.49 ERA). So far this season Lowe is just 5-6 with a 4.21 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 19 starts. The veteran is not a stranger to the Phillies as he has pitched in 20 career regular season games against the Phillies. In those games he is 8-5 with a 2.99 ERA. In 8 regular season starts at the Bank, he is 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA. Lowe is 1-1 against the Phillie this season with a 1.38 ERA in two starts. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 42-186 (.226) while facing Lowe during their careers.
The Phillies will send their big thee to the hill in this clash of the National League Titans. Atlanta will have the tall order of facing three of the best pitchers in baseball in Halladay, Lee and Hamels. But the big 3 haven’t had a lot of success against the Braves during the season. They are a combined 1-4 with a 3.38 ERA versus Atlanta. This series is big for the Phillies but it is even bigger for the Braves. A series win or sweep would show the rest of baseball that they are for real and they can compete with the Phillies. There should be a playoff atmosphere in South Philly this weekend and the Philly Phaithful will do their best to intimidate a younger Braves squad. The Braves enter the series as the healthier team and may be playing better baseball right now. But you can’t ignore the difficulty of facing the 3 starters the Phils will hand the ball to in each game. I predict the Phillies will win 2 of the 3 games and go into the break with a 3.5 game lead in the division.