Braves look to extend their success against the Phillies
Contrary to what will likely be repeated when the Phillies visit Atlanta for the last three games of the regular season, this week’s three-game set in Philadelphia is indeed be the most-anticipated series the Braves have experienced since last visiting the postseason in 2005.
There is no reason to deem this or any other regular season series as being any more important than the others. Had the Braves been swept this weekend by the Mets, could you still argue that this series was any more important than the one that had just been played in Queens.
The importance of this series against the Phillies was salvaged by what happened over the past three days at Citi Field.
If the Braves were to take two of three this week in Philly and move to within two games of the Phillies in the National League East race, can you really deem this series any more important than any of the next three remaining on the schedule?
The optimism created this week in Philadelphia could prove to be every bit as influential as the destruction that could be felt if the Braves don’t find a way to finally end their Nationals Park woes this weekend.
It sounds cliche, but the journey through a baseball season can only be completed one day at a time. What’s achievable today is based on yesterday’s events. Tomorrow’s potential is based on what is achieved today.
Series outlook: That sense of urgency currently being felt by Braves fans is a product of everything that has transpired since Derek Lowe threw the season’s first pitch on April 5. The latest bumps – a pair of series losses to the Pirates and Nationals — on this roller -coaster ride lessened the comfort level, but certainly didn’t destroy the Braves postseason hopes.
Had Jayson Werth not energized the Philly fans with his walk-off homer yesterday, the Braves would have entered this series just two games behind the Phillies in the National League East standings.
But at the same time, the Braves playoff hopes were seemingly strengthened yesterday when the Dodgers staged their own late-inning comeback and claimed an 11-inning victory over the dangerous Rockies.
The Braves own a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Padres in the National League Wild Card race. Had the Rockies held on to win yesterday, they would have matched the Padres record.
Considering the Rockies have won 13 of their past 16 games and the Padres have lost 17 of their past 24, it’s easy to understand why the Dodgers’ walk-off victory might prove to be just as influential to the Braves as the one produced by the Phillies.
Because it gives them a chance to at least win the division, the Braves are embracing the chance to play six of their last 12 games against the Phillies. But at the same time, this means they’ll be spending half of these final two weeks playing against this year’s most successful NL club.
The Braves have won seven of 12, including five of their past six, against the Phillies this year. But what transpired in the early days of June and July certainly doesn’t guarantee that they will encounter equal success during these final days of the season.
Remember when the Phillies were swept in a four-game series against the Astros? Well the two-time defending NL pennant winners have won 19 of the 23 games that have followed, including each of their past seven.
Now they’ll head into this three-game series against the Braves ready to send Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to the mound to oppose what could be two rookies (Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor) and 24-year-old right-hander Tommy Hanson.
If Jair Jurrjens’ sore right knee prevents him from making his scheduled start in tonight’s series opener, the Braves will ask Beachy to make his Major League debut in the thick of a tight pennant race and within what is certainly the NL’s most electric environment.
“We know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all played in front of the crowds. They’re going to be cheering from pitch one. We’ve got to be ready and I think we will be.
“This is what you play for. You play the game for these moments. This is what you train hard for in the offseason. Going to Spring Training and all the hours you put into baseball is to play in a playoff-type atmosphere and to make it to the postseason.”
When Hamels was named the World Series MVP in 2008, Beachy was still trying to figure out what had transpired over the previous few months. When he left Indian Wesleyan University in late May of that year, he went to the Virginia Valley Summer League with the belief he’d simply return for his senior season to continue his role as third baseman/closer.
The Braves signed him that summer and sent him to their Rookie Level affiliate in Danville to finish the season. There certainly wasn’t reason to believe two years later, he’d develop into a quality starter, who would lead the Minors in ERA (1.73) and get a call in late September to join the big league club and possibly aid a pennant race.
But what else did you expect during a season that has been filled with surprsises?
Some within the Braves organization seem hopeful that Jurrjens will be able to make this start. Others seem a little more hesitant to believe it’s a good idea to send him to the mound and possibly risk him aggravating the knee to the point where he might be sidelined for a few more weeks.
Jurrjens has been far from consistent while posting a 7.09 ERA in his past five starts. But it would seemingly be in the Braves best interest if he arrives at the park and proves that he’s even less bothered by the knee ailment he incurred during a bullpen session Friday night.
Neutralizing Victorino: It goes without saying that the Braves need to limit the power produced by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. But most importantly, they need to find a way to keep Shane Victorino off the base paths.
With Jimmy Rollins sidelined, Victorino has found comfort at the top of this potent lineup. Since moving back into the leadoff spot on Sept. 6, he has hit .389 and compiled a .459 on-base percentage.
Now he’s going to attempt to extend this success against a team that has frustrated him all year. In 12 games against the Braves, he has hit .120 (6-for-50) with a .151 on-base percentage. Two of his six hits have been homers.
With the Phillies sending a pair of former 20-game winners and a World Series MVP to the mound, the Braves are certainly at a disadvantage based on the starting pitching matchups.
But if the Atlanta starters can at least hold steady, the advantage could shift in the later innings. The Braves bullpen ranks second in the NL with a 3.02 ERA. The Phillies rank eighth with a 4.02 mark.
The Braves have won 17 of the 30 games played against the Phillies since the start of the 2009 season. Along the way, they have won eight of the 15 games played in Philadelphia.
“I don’t think any of us are looking at it as ‘oh my God we’ve never been here before,'” McCann said. “I got to play in the playoffs when I was 21 (years-old). I can’t imagine it being any more nerve-wracking than it was then. There’s a lot of young guys in here. But we all expect to be here. We all expect to produce at this level. I don’t think anything is going to take us away from that.”