Philadelphia - If one thing has been consistent with the Braves the first half of this season, it’s that they can’t get a whole lot to go right at once.
Just when it seemed the Braves couldn’t enter the All-Star break in better fashion, with a three-game sweep of the Phillies, momentum from their starting pitching, an end to Brian McCann’s out-of-body fruitlessness, and Dan Uggla showing signs of coming around too, the Braves had to lose shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a broken hand.
The Braves wrapped up the first half with a 4-3 victory Sunday to sweep the Phillies for the first time in two years and for the first time at Citizens Bank Park since 2007. But they won’t exactly rest easy over the All-Star break as Simmons has to be re-evaluated for a fractured fifth metacarpal on Monday and could miss extended time.
“It’s a cruel game at times,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Over the past three days, the Braves gained two games on the Nationals and passed the New York Mets into second place in the NL East. They’ve won four in a row overall to pull within four games of first place.
They did it on the strength of their starting pitching with a nod to McCann, who has homered for four straight days.
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens combined to hold the Phillies to six earned runs in 21 innings (2.57 ERA), while going seven innings each to secure wins. The Braves bullpen complemented them with six shutout innings including the 24th and 25th saves from Craig Kimbrel.
“I was just trying to be even close to the performance they had,” Jurrjens said of Hudson and Hanson, who joined Mike Minor in giving the Braves four straight quality starts.
Jurrjens continued to show improved velocity in his fourth start back from a minor league stint, while going 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
“He’s been a shot in the arm for us since he’s been back,” McCann said. “It’s been great to see because he was a top-of-the-rotation guy for us for four years. When he gets in that zone like he was today, he’s a surgeon. He can throw any pitch in any spot.”
The only real regrets Jurrjens had were a couple of pitches to Jason Pridie, who drove in all three Phillies’ runs. The recent minor league call-up was a last-minute replacement Sunday for Shane Victorino, who was scratched from the Phillies’ lineup for what was called a manager’s decision. Jurrjens admitted letting down against Pridie, while giving up a two-run homer to him in the second and an RBI double in the fourth.
“That’s the thing about baseball that’s so crazy,” Jurrjens said. “Without thinking about it, you relax a little bit, and that shows you that you can never relax in baseball. You need to go after everybody the same. He made me pay twice.”
But a couple of the Braves thumpers, who have seen their share of struggles this year, got Jurrjens four runs of support for the win. Uggla hit a 432-foot two-run home run to center field in the second inning to break up an 0-for-20 streak, and McCann singled in a run to tie it and put the Braves up with his fourth home run in four games, one shy of his career-long. He homered in five straight games from July 15-19, 2006.
McCann has homered in all five games he’s played against the Phillies this season, including two grand slams. He’s only the second player in history to homer in his first five games of a season against the Phillies, joining the Astros’ Glenn Davis, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I’m in a place I feel like now that I haven’t been in three years,” McCann said. “I’m excited for the second half. I’m excited for everything that comes after this. I’ve just got to keep pushing.”
That would go for the Braves as well.