PHILADELPHIA- A Jayson Werth walk off home run kept the Phillies three games ahead of the Braves with 12 games to go. The Braves need a miraculous run over the next two weeks to win another division championship for Bobby Cox. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
The Braves start a three game series in Philadelphia, which will define how the Braves approach the final nine games. The best possible scenario is that the Braves sweep and find themselves tied for first in the NL east. Realistically, the Braves could win one or two games. Looking at the pitching matchups, the Braves chances of winning one game is much more difficult.
Monday night the Braves will start Jair Jurrjens (7-6, 4.64 ERA) against Cole Hamels (11-10, 3.01 ERA). Jurrjens is not having the kind of season that fans know he is capable of. In his last five starts, Jurrjens is 2-2 and has given up 21 earned runs. On the other hand Hamel’s is 4-0 and has only allowed three earned runs in his last five starts. The Braves have struggled against left-handed pitchers and will have to work hard to provide some offense for Jurrjens.
(Correction: Reports say that Brandon Beachy will start tonight instead of Jair Jurrjens tonight. This could be a scary decision but in my mind could not be as bad as it seems. Philadelphia has hit Jurrjens well this year but with very little time to study for Beachy the Phillies may not be prepared. We will know very soon. )
On Tuesday, the Braves will hand the ball to rookie Mike Minor (3-1, 5.84 ERA) to face the Phillies ace Roy Halladay (19-10, 2.49 ERA). Halladay is among the leagues best pitchers but in his last five starts he is 3-2 and has given up 17 earned runs. But, he has also gone through stretches of not allowing a run. The Braves will have to bring their best offensive performance to help Minor get his fourth big league win. In his last five starts, Minor is 2-1 and has allowed 19 earned runs.
The final game of the series matches Tommy Hansen (10-11, 3.62 ERA) against Roy Oswalt (7-1, 1.94 ERA since joining the Phillies). Tommy Hansen is one of the Braves hot young pitchers but he is finishing his first full season in the major league. He is going to face an extremely tough test this Wednesday in Philadelphia.
If you are still optimistic, take a second glance at the matchups and statistics and remove your head from the clouds. A sweep by the Phillies could be in the future for the Braves. If Atlanta can win one game this series, it would be a celebration. If they take two of three, get your tomahawks out because it will be a heck of a run.
A sweep would be bad, but if Atlanta can hang on to the wild card it would not be the end of the world. A sweep would insure that the Phillies would more than likely clinch the division before our final series against them. This could be a blessing in disguise if they decide to rest some of their stars the last three games of the season to prepare for the playoffs. It would be nice if the Braves could face a Phillies lineup with out Werth, Howard and Ibanez. It would be even sweeter if Atlanta did not have to face Halladay or Hamels the final series. I am not saying that I am rooting for a sweep at the hands of the Phillies, but if we lose three straight and are still a top the wild card standings I would be ok. I would love to win the division, but I want to make the playoffs anyway we can.
If the Braves are going to win the NL east they are going to have to beat the best to be the best. Their offense is going to need to start firing and get hot right now. The miraculous season that the Braves have had thus far will need to continue if they are going to hang another divisional banner in left field.