In Tim Hudson’s eyes, he knows the weekend series is important, but he also knows if the Braves take just one game in Philadelphia, there is still a lot of baseball left to play.
“By no means is it a make-or-break series,” Hudson said after Thursday’s 6-3 victory over the Rockies.
And Hudson is correct, it is not a make-or-break series, but with the Braves coming into the series 2 1/2 games behind the Phillies atop the NL East as one of the hottest teams in baseball.
At the beginning of June, the Braves were coming off two months of mediocre baseball, holding a 30-26 record. But June and the start of July have seen the Braves flourish, going 23-10 with three games left on the first half of the schedule.
The Phillies, who began June at 34-21, kept pace with the Braves, going 21-12 over that span, while losing a few games in the standings.
These two rivals have already met 9 times, but do not see each other until September, when the division is truly on the line.
With the series beginning Friday, the Braves send Brandon Beachy to the mound against Roy Halladay.
Beachy has seen the Phillies twice this season, once in April and the other in May, and each time, both teams saw a different Beachy.
The rookie right hander threw 6 innings April 9, giving up 4 runs on 7 hits, striking out just 2 as the Braves lost 10-2. In his start May 13, the start that saw Beachy leave after two innings with an oblique strain, he went 2 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits before hitting the disabled list for more than a month. Beachy did not fare in the decision in his last start, a 5-4 loss to the Orioles. He went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits while striking out 6.
The Braves got the best of Halladay in his only start against the team so far this year, taking the loss as he went 8 innings, giving up 3 runs and 8 hits as the Braves won, 3-2. Halladay struck out 7 and walked 2 in a game that saw Dan Uggla go deep and Freddie Freeman drive in two runs. In Halladay’s last start, his return to Toronto, he went all 9 innings, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits while fanning 8. Halladay has thrown two consecutive complete games.
In Saturday’s contest, the Braves send Tommy Hanson to the mound against Cliff Lee. Hanson, who has not seen the Phillies yet in 2011, went 7 innings in his last start against the Rockies Monday, giving up 4 hits and one run while striking out 6, earning his 10th victory of the year.
Lee has made two starts against the Braves this year, and the Braves got the best of him in both outings. During his start on April 8, Lee went 3 1/3 innings, giving up 6 runs on 10 hits as the Braves went on to win, 6-3. His next start against the Braves, May 6, he went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs on 9 hits while striking out a career-high 16, but the Braves won that game, 5-0. While Lee was 5-0 over the month of June, giving up only 1 run in his 5 starts, he began the month of July a little shaky in Toronto. Lee gave up 7 runs on 10 hits over 7 1/3 innings while striking out 9 in a 7-4 Blue Jays victory.
In Sunday’s series and first half finale, the Braves send Derek Lowe to the mound to oppose Cole Hamels. Lowe has made two starts this year against the Phillies, splitting both decisions. In the first game, April 10, Lowe allowed two runs on 7 hits over 7 innings as the Braves lost, 3-0. In his start May 6, the veteran went 6 innings, giving up 2 hits and no runs in the Braves 5-0 victory. During his last start, Lowe went 5 1/3 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits against the Rockies, but provided himself with a little run support, hitting a three-run double that put the Braves up 5-2 before winning the ballgame, 5-3.
Hamels has made three starts against the Braves this year, with each time being a different story. In the first start, April 10, Hamels went 7 innings, allowing 4 hits and no runs while striking out 8 in a 3-0 Phillies win. In his May 8 start, he again went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 9 in a Braves 5-2 win. His next start, May 13, also against the Braves, the lefty went 6 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits, striking out 7 in a Phillies 5-4 win. His previous start, a 14-2 win over Florida, Hamels went 8 innings, giving up 8 hits and 2 runs while striking out 5.
Offensively, the Braves have been clicking on a few different cylinders, putting them together at times for a very potent offense. Dan Uggla raised his average 10 points in three games against the Rockies, hitting two homers to take the team lead. Brian McCann, who got Thursday’s game off, was hitting 41-for-112 (.336) over his last 30 games with 10 HR and 23 RBI’s. Freddie Freeman, who hit his first MLB home run against Halladay at Citizen’s Bank Park, is 12-for-34 against the Phillies, a .353 average. The rookie hit four home runs against the Rockies, staying in the park in Wednesday’s win.
For the Phillies, Chase Utley currently boasts a 10-game hitting streak, going .333 over those 10 games. Ryan Howard has been hot of late, hitting .346 on the Phillies six-game trip that ended Thursday. The Phillies will be without Shane Victorino for the weekend, who was placed on the DL with a sprained right thumb.
Keys to the series
- End the first half strong
- Winners of 7 of their last 10 and four straight, the Braves have a chance to end the first half of the season atop the NL East entering play Friday 2 1/2 games back.
- Continue the offensive surge
- The Braves scored 24 runs against Colorado, but the eye-popping part happened in the finale Thursday, when the Braves strung together six consecutive hits to begin the third inning, scoring 5 runs in the frame before winning, 6-3. It begins with Jordan Schafer and trickles down through the lineup.
- Don’t let up on the pitching either
- The Braves come in ranked atop the NL in total pitching with a 3.02 ERA, while the Phillies are right behind them with a 3.05 ERA. This series will boil down to whichever teams pitchers prove able to keep the opposing hitters off balance and off the base paths. With the pitching matchups set, anyone who knows baseball knows anything can happen.
Notes: Martin Prado will not rejoin the Braves for the series in Philadelphia, instead returning after the All-Star break, when the Braves kick off the second half with three against the Nationals.