The first-place Atlanta Braves . . .
Wait a minute. Let me type that again.
The first-place Atlanta Braves . . . (who’d a thunk it?) . . . play game two of their series against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight. In the last two weeks, the Braves are 11-2 and the Phillies are 4-9, which has led to something we haven’t seen here in five years. Yes, it has been that long since the Braves have been in first place as late as June.
Does it guarantee anything? No. It’s a little early to start computing magic numbers. (OK, but this is for entertainment purposes only: The Braves’ magic number is 112.)
But as I noted the other day, this is a key stretch for the Braves. Even though they’re only 51 games into a 162-games season, they’ve entered a difficult part of their schedule. Thirteen of 17 games in an 18-day span come against the Phillies, Dodgers, Twins and Rays. Starting the stretch with Monday’s 9-3 win was impressive.
For some reason, a few readers took it as a negative the other day when I pointed out after a win over Pittsburgh that the Braves were 16-4 against the bottom six teams in the National League and 11-18 against everybody else. To those folks: I think you missed the point. I wasn’t bashing the Braves for beating the Pirates. The stats merely were to illustrate that the team had something to prove against tougher opponents in this stretch — something that even players in the clubhouse acknowledged.
Here’s a few things to take note of tonight:
♦ Re-signing starting pitcher Tim Hudson was the best decision general manager Frank Wren made this past winter. While the deal with the Yankees involving Javier Vazquez and Melky Cabrera (and other pieces) largely was lampooned, Hudson has held up his end. He’s 5-1 with a 2.24 ERA and leads the team with eight quality starts in 10 outings.
♦ Chipper Jones, possibly the subject of tonight’s column, is 8-for-16 with seven RBI over the last five games. I thought it was significant that he possibly set the tone for this series Monday with a two-run homer that gave the Braves an early lead.
♦ Troy Glaus, the bulls-eye for jokes in April, made a strong bid for National League Player of the Month in May, hitting .330 (34 for 103) with six homers and 28 RBI. He also hit a three-run homer Monday.
The Phillies, meanwhile, are struggling offensively. Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News points out that the Phillies have scored only 10 runs in the last nine games. An excerpt from Hagen’s column:
The Phillies are a team that has been to the World Series the last two years and has pretensions of a three-peat. A team that had five regulars make the All-Star team last year and had five at the top of the balloting in the first results released last week. A team with a payroll pushing $140 million. And also a team that, even after yesterday’s virtual run-producing explosion in a 9-3 loss to the Braves at Turner Field, has scored a grand total of 10 times in the last nine games. That’s awful no matter how hard you try to paint a happy face on it.
This really isn’t amusing anymore. But even Charlie Manuel, who got himself ejected in the third inning, couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
“Let me put it to you like this. It seems like a long time since I saw us score 5, 6, 7, 8 runs,” the manager said. “If you watch one of our games, most of the time we’re going to score five runs or better. Five runs is kind of what you expect. And all of a sudden we have trouble scoring one run.
“I heard somebody say [nine] games. It seems like it’s been months. Something’s got to break for us.”
So, yeah: The mood’s a little different in Philly.
That’s it for now. I’ll be blogging live starting with the first pitch but let me know if you have any questions until then. Thanks. JS