It would be beneficial for the Braves if the Philadelphia Phillies came to town with all of their starters wrapped in bubble wrap and treated the next three games as spring training. But don’t expect it.
Realistically, the fizzling Braves need to win at least two out of three against the Phillies — and maybe sweep – to advance to the postseason. St. Louis, which trails them in the wild card race by only one game, ends the season against the 104-loss Houston Astros.
The Phillies may have everything wrapped up, but they shouldn’t be lacking in motivation. They lost eight straight games until defeating the New York Mets on Sunday and they don’t want to head into the divisional playoffs on a downturn. Eliminating an East Division rival also could be motivating. So while Phillies manager Charlie Manuel isn’t going to do anything to endanger his team’s postseason success, he’s certainly not going to lay down.
Manuel pretty much reaffirmed this to the Philadelphia Daily News’ Paul Hagen when addressing the likelihood of starter Cole Hamels not pitching in Wednesday’s regular season finale (it would leave Hamels on short rest for game three of the playoffs).
“We do have to think about that, but that’s tough to handle,” Manuel said. “We’ve got to get ready for ourselves. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready. And we want to play better than we’ve been playing and we want to be ready going in. And we’re not going to be able to use Hamels in that game for quite a long ways because he’s going to pitch that third [NLDS] game for us.”
Don’t forget a year ago. When the Phillies closed last season at Turner Field, they had no clear motivation to win other than to spread misery in Atlanta. But they won the first two games anyway by lopsided scores of 11-5 and 7-0, before the Braves took the finale 8-7 to reach the postseason.
The Braves will have to earn their way into the playoffs the next three nights. In other words, they can’t look anything like the team that is coming off series losses to the Mets, Marlins and Nationals.
By Jeff Schultz