The Braves and Phillies don’t conjure up thoughts of a great rivalry, probably because the teams generally involved in great rivalries usually have a certain degree of contempt for each other. They think the other brags too much or whines too much or is too arrogant or is just kinda dumb.
Do you ever get that sense when the Braves and Phillies meet?
“We have a healthy respect for the Phillies,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
“I think of them as a model club,” Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro said.
The 1 and 1A of the National League East Division meet for the first time this season in Friday’s home opener at Turner Field. It’s chapter one of 18 for the mutual admiration society.
It seems difficult for Braves’ fans to work up a good hatred for the Phillies. The problem with the Phillies is, they’re just good. They’re not really obnoxious when they win. They’re not all that much fun to mock when they lose.
They almost don’t belong in Philadelphia. Maybe somewhere closer to Lancaster, with the Amish.
When the Braves were battling the New York Mets for the N.L. East, that defined a rivalry. Chipper Jones loved tormenting the Mets and their fans so much that he named his son Shea. (Jones was a career .313 hitter with 19 home runs at Shea Stadium. When it was demolished, it was a wonder he didn’t hold a candlelight vigil.)
When Tom Glavine went to New York, the reaction was, “Of all the teams, he signed with the Mets?” But when Glavine went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA in his first season as a Met, it was much funnier than if he was a Brewer.
Even Wren, who’s not one to take shots at opponents, contrasted the Mets’ rivalry with the Phillies. And he put it so nicely: “I would say in our head-to-head rivalry with the Mets, the teams were not as mutually respectful as in this one.”
“I just think it always was the tone. I don’t know why. It predated me, starting back in the ’90s. There was a little additional animosity there.”
The Braves won 14 straight division titles, the last nine coming after realignment moved them from the West to the East. The Phillies have won the last four. The Mets had one sandwiched in between in 2006 — kind of like the off-ramp connecting two interstates.
Nothing will be decided this weekend, any more than the results from the Braves’ first week of games in Washington and Milwaukee mean they’re going to be a .500 team (being two-hit by Yovani Gallardo in Milwaukee was not on anybody’s radar). But even Amaro said, “It’s a great gauge for us as far as seeing where we think we stand against the elite clubs in our division. We play each other so many times that there’s no surprises, but obviously both clubs have made some changes. We understand it’ll be a difficult series. They understand it’ll be a difficult series.”
The Braves are 18-18 against Philly in the last two seasons. They won the regular-season finale at Turner Field last year to win the wild card berth. They would rather not make that a habit.
They will officially unveil a wild card banner against Philadelphia, but that doesn’t nearly carry the same weight as if they were unveiling a division title flag. Actually, it’s a little strange, given the team that beat them out will be in the other dugout. The Phillies also have stolen a page out of the Braves’ past by building one of the greatest starting pitching rotations in history — Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt — possible positioning them to extend this streak of division titles for years. But the Braves probably have a better lineup, with the Phillies missing the injured Chase Utley and departed Jayson Werth and the Braves adding Dan Uggla. Amaro acknowledges Atlanta’s bullpen probably is better.
“They have some great young arms,” Amaro said.
“They are the reigning division champions,” Wren counters.
Not expecting a bean ball war.
By Jeff Schultz