Washington – As if a seven-game winning streak by the Phillies wasn’t enough to tighten the screws on the Braves, how about a trade for Roy Oswalt?
The Phillies acquired the standout Astros pitcher Thursday and cash for left-hander J.A. Happ and minor leaguers Anthony Gose, and Jonathan Villar, giving them an imposing rotation with Roy Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels at the top.
(Gose was subsequently traded to Toronto for minor league first baseman Brett Wallace.)
While Oswalt was packing his belongings to fly to Washington to pitch for the Phillies against the Nationals on Friday, the Braves were packing their things to fly out of Washington after a second consecutive series loss, dropping two of three to the Nationals.
The Braves’ NL East lead was down to three games on the Phillies, who played Thursday night. That’s the closest it’s been since the first week of July.
“To go to the playoffs you’ve got to beat good pitching,” Braves catcher David Ross said. “They have Roy Oswalt, so what? They’ve got Roy Halladay. You’re going to have to beat somebody. If you’re sitting in this locker room, and you’re thinking you’ve got a chance to win a world championship, which we feel that we have a good enough team to (do), then you’re going to have to beat good pitchers period, the best.”
Braves pitcher Derek Lowe said the Braves have known this was coming for a while, given the speculation they’ve heard for weeks.
“It was just a matter of who they were going to give up,” Lowe said. “…If we play the way we should and take care of our own games, we’re still in first place right now. We’ve got a long way to go. It’s definitely going to help their team; there’s no doubt about it.”
The Braves have been looking to improve their team but on a smaller scale, since they already traded for shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
The Braves, who just sent struggling center fielder Nate McLouth to Triple-A Gwinnett, are in the market for an outfielder but have watched several players they were interested in drop out of the picture because of injuries, including David DeJesus of the Royals and Cody Ross of the Marlins because of an injury to his teammate Chris Coghlan.
Braves general manager Frank Wren indicated Thursday the Braves are still actively looking. Their wants include the outfield and possibly a reliever.
“We’re still looking to improve the club,” Wren said in an e-mail.
Wren had returned to Atlanta Wednesday night after spending two days with the Braves in Washington. When chips around baseball started to fall late Wednesday afternoon, Wren had said it was a matter of seeing if trade partners would lower their asking price by 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We know what’s out there,” Wren said. “Whether the price will come down where it makes it reasonable and things fit for us, I don’t know.”
With Oswalt set to make $16 million next season, and the Braves unable to unload contracts of Kenshin Kawakami or McLouth, the Braves weren’t in the running for a big-name pickup like Oswalt, even with the cash the Astros were offering (they’re reportedly paying $11 million of the $23 million he’s owed through 2011.)
The Braves are also hesitant to part with the prospects necessary to land a big piece, like a Mike Minor, Julio Teheran or Freddie Freeman.
Still a little chippy from Thursday’s loss, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones sounded like he was in no mood to start worrying about the Phillies and Oswalt.
“We don’t play the Phillies until late September,” Jones said. “Good pick up for them. I’m happy for them.”
Actually, the Braves have actually fared well against Oswalt. He’s 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA in seven regular season starts against the Braves for his career, his highest career ERA against any team.