Braves welcome Phillies and Howard back to The Ted
As much as the Braves might like to make an early statement and exit this week’s three-game series against the Phillies sitting atop the National League East standings, it’s still far too early to put too much importance on what transpires at Turner Field over the course of the next three days.
Through the first 12 games of the 2009 season, the Braves were 6-6 and five games behind the front-running Marlins in the NL East standings. The Phillies sat 5 ½ games back of this same Marlins club that ended up finishing six game back when all was said and done.
Oh yeah and in case you forgot, the Braves won seven of the first nine games played against this Phillies team that sat seven games in front of them when the regular season concluded.
The only three-game series against the Phillies that the Braves necessarily want to deem as “important” is the one that will be staged at Turner Field during the final weekend of the regular season (Oct. 1-3).
With this being said, in order to be in position to end Philadelphia’s three-year run as the NL East champs, the Braves certainly could benefit from the opportunity to make a statement against the injury-depleted Phillies club that is in town this week.
Yes Roy Halladay will toe the rubber during Wednesday night’s game. But in the other two games this week, the Braves will be challenged by Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer.
Kendrick has posted a 17.47 ERA and completed just 5 2/3 innings in his first two starts of the season. The 47-year-old Moyer has split a pair a decisions and surrendered five earned runs in six innings during both of his first two starts.
The Phillies will also be without the leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins, who is on the disabled list with a strained right calf. Of course seeing how Rollins hit .205 with a .250 on-base percentage through the first 70 games last year, it’s obvious that the Phillies can survive without him serving as a catalyst at the top of the lineup.
Looking back at how the Braves managed to win seven of the first nine games played against the Phillies last year, Rollins’ early-season struggles obviously played a part. But so too did the fact that the Atlanta pitchers managed to limit Ryan Howard to a .250 batting average and ZERO homers.
While losing six of their last nine games against the Phillies, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 (14-for-32) with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a 1.776 OPS.
Despite his early struggles, Howard still hit more homers (8) and collected more RBIs (16) than any other player against the Braves last year. Among those who registered at least 20 plate appearances, his .794 slugging percentage ranked fourth behind Jay Bruce (1.000), Ryan Braun (.833) and Andre Ethier (.800).
During their final six wins against the Braves this year, the Phillies totaled 27 runs. Howard drove in 11 of those runs and each of these RBIs came courtesy of home runs.
Tommy Hanson, who surrendered one of those eight homers drilled by Howard, will take the hill for the Braves during tonight’s series opener. Hanson lost just twice in his final 11 starts last year and both of those setbacks came during rain-interrupted outings against the Phillies.
When Hanson took the mound at Turner Field last year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”
As I mentioned in October, I suggest the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate. Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s “Walk This Way”.
Braves manager Bobby Cox has Matt Diaz back in the leadoff spot for tonight’s series opener against the Phillies. Diaz has three hits in four career at-bats against Kendrick, who has surrendered a pair of homers to both Chipper Jones and Nate McLouth.
Cox has also moved Heyward up to the sixth spot today and dropped the slumping Yunel Escobar to the seventh spot. Escobar has tallied just three RBIs since his five-RBI performance on Opening Day.
BRAVES LINEUP for 4/20 vs. Phillies