The regal Phillies come to town: It’s early, but it’s still big

One of Ryan Howard's eight homers against the Braves in 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One of Ryan Howard's eight homers against the Braves in 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Opponents used to come here shouldering the burden of proof. To reach the World Series, National League teams would say, you had to go through Atlanta.

The Mets would say it, and the Phillies and the Marlins. “And even the teams not in our division — the Astros and the Dodgers,” Chipper Jones said. “They knew they had to go through us to get to the World Series.”

Said Brian McCann: “For 14 years, that’s the way it was. But for the last three years, the Phillies have been the best team … They’re the team in the National League.”

The Braves haven’t graced a playoff game since Chris Burke hoisted Joey Devine’s pitch in the 18th inning into the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The date was Oct. 9, 2005. The Phillies have won the NL East three years running and have reached the World Series the past two, winning it all in 2008. They have become what the Braves, over those 14 consecutive first-place finishes, once were: The standard of excellence.

McCann: “We think we’ve got a great team. But we’ve got to go through them.”

The Braves and Phillies will convene for three games beginning Tuesday at Turner Field. The Phils arrive leading the third-place Braves by a game. Yes, it’s early. But it’s never too soon to make a good first impression.

“We found that out last year,” McCann said. “We ran out of time. If the season had gone another month, we’d have found ourselves playing in the postseason. These games now count just as much as the ones in September.”

Lest we forget, the Braves handled the Phils over the first three series last season. They won seven of the first nine meetings, including a three-game sweep here just before the Fourth of July that cut Philadelphia’s division lead to two games. Then Ryan Howard got involved. He hit eight home runs against Braves pitching over the final nine games, of which his team won six.

And this year? “Well, we know we’re going to have win the season series from them, which we did last year [10-8],” Jones said. “And if we do make it to the postseason, you figure you’re still going to have to play them — not in the first round, but the next.”

Such was the aura that once attached itself to the Braves: You couldn’t go anywhere until you managed to beat them. The Phillies now wear that mantle, and to their credit they’ve worn it well. They’ve sold out their ballpark and increased their payroll and made acquisition after clever acquisition — Jayson Werth, Joe Blanton, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee (for three months) and now Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco. And when all else fails, they’ve got the big man hitting cleanup.

How will the series go?

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Here’s Jones speaking of Howard, who did to the Braves last season as Chipper himself has historically done to the Mets: “It’s one thing to pitch to him with nobody on; it’s something else when he’s got runners on and you have to pitch to him. It’s like [John] Smoltz with Tony Gwynn. Smoltzie could not get him out, and finally Leo [Mazzone, then the pitching coach] said, ‘You know the best way to pitch to Tony Gwynn? Get the son-of-a-guns in front of him. Then who cares if he hits a single?’ ”

The difference being: Gwynn was a singles hitter; Howard is a big bopper. But you get the idea.

The Braves themselves began to get an idea last season, not about Howard but about themselves. They were 43-31 after the All-Star break, and that was with losing the season’s final six games. “After the All-Star game, we realized what we could do,” McCann said, and now they’ve got a brand new reason to believe.

His name is Jason Heyward. The Phillies haven’t seen him in a real game yet, but they’re about to take a gander. Nobody of sound mind would dare suggest the rookie is yet on a par with the great Ryan Howard, but through two weeks Heyward does have one more RBI. Just sayin’.

108 comments Add your comment

Greg Norton

April 19th, 2010
12:33 pm

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
12:34 pm

Once again, Greg Norton is unassuming to a fault. Kudos.

LizellaDawg

April 19th, 2010
12:34 pm

Mark, what do you think about Infante in Left batting leadoff? The guy was money last year and I dont know why we havent seen him more this year.

Greg Norton

April 19th, 2010
12:38 pm

Good pitching will shut down good hitting (unless I’m at the plate)…Braves take 2.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
12:38 pm

We all know, LizellaDawg, that Bobby Cox gives guys the benefit of several doubts. I doubt the Braves would do anything major, lineup-change-wise, for a few more weeks. They are 7-5, and there’s a good buzz around the team.

BuckheadBrave

April 19th, 2010
12:42 pm

I say Braves take two. I think we actually match up even better than we did last year against the Phils. They are short Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco is among the best defensively but is not the hitter he is pretending to be right now, although may be a Jason Werth or Ibanez situation, put a decent hitter in there with Howard, Utley and Victorino and they will see pitches to hit. Their picthing after Halladay is so bad they may make Glaus look good.

BuckheadBrave

April 19th, 2010
12:45 pm

I see it now Glaus hits a couple of home runs off of fraud of the century Cole Hammels and injured JA Happ, and that will be good enough for Hinske to never be heard from again. He will go where ever it is they send Matt Diaz too when they make him dissapear for weeks at a time despite being our best lead off hitter, a fan favorite, and playing harder than possibly anybody in MLB.

Guy

April 19th, 2010
12:47 pm

Braves will get swept.

Ted M

April 19th, 2010
12:48 pm

Halladay vs Lowe…I wonder if the Braves can continue to give Lowe the great run support he gets. If they do against Halladay then its like that SNL skit “What’s up with that”

BuckheadBrave

April 19th, 2010
12:48 pm

Go back to Philly, Guy

BuckheadBrave

April 19th, 2010
12:51 pm

Braves win NL east and continue a new streak under my dark horse to replace Bobby, Ned Yost.

Ted M

April 19th, 2010
12:55 pm

Mark – If the Braves score 6 or 7 on Halladay you’ll have to do the Kenan Thompson song and dance.

matt r

April 19th, 2010
12:58 pm

Thanks for reminding us of that 2005 NLDS Game 4. I still haven’t recovered from Farnsworth giving up that grand slam and I sat on the couch shell shocked for the next nine innings

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
12:58 pm

I’m familiar with Kenan Thompson, Ted M. I remember when he was part of Kenan and Kel on Nick.

Ted M

April 19th, 2010
1:01 pm

Have you watched SNL lately?

O'Brien

April 19th, 2010
1:02 pm

Mark,

Even if there is a good buzz around the team, there has to be a bad buzz around the offense…

JEZ

April 19th, 2010
1:07 pm

heck yea Mark! I’m a youngin so that was my generation era growing up! Those guys are great.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
1:09 pm

Yes, I watch SNL regularly. I especially enjoy that new guy Bill Murray as Nick the lounge singer.

JEZ

April 19th, 2010
1:11 pm

so can anybody tell me the probable starter matchups for the Phil/braves?

Sonny Clusters

April 19th, 2010
1:12 pm

When we was playing ball Coach wouldn’t allow any buzzing. Coach decided who would play and who wouldn’t and Coach was always right. One time, Stinky Wintes went a few games without a hit and Coach quietly moved him from cleanup to batting 6th. Stinky knew not to say anything and he just worked on his swing and soon he was back at cleanup. Same thing with a sportswriter that misses a couple deadlines . . . have to move that sportswriter down a notch to obituaries and soon he will straighten right up.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
1:13 pm

Hanson versus Kyle Kendrick on Tuesday. Hudson against TBA on Wednesday. Lowe against Halladay (presumably) on Thursday.

wawel78

April 19th, 2010
1:14 pm

well JEZ, in a matchups of #1’s on Thursday, it’s Lowe vs. Halladay, Happ v. Hudson on Wed and Hanson v. Kendrick tomorrow.

Mark Bradley

April 19th, 2010
1:16 pm

There’s a chance Happ will miss his start Wednesday. That’s why it’s TBA. Nelson Figueroa might get the start if Happ can’t work, reports Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

JEZ

April 19th, 2010
1:18 pm

Thanks, I’m looking forward to seeing Tommy take the mound tomorrow. Will hopefully be a great way to start the series with some momentum

Hillbilly Deluxe

April 19th, 2010
1:19 pm

I never pay much attention to the standings until the 1st of June. Many an early season flash has taken a nose dive and many a team that was cold early has caught fire.

Ryan

April 19th, 2010
1:26 pm

Escobar is getting protection with Heyward behind him, he needs to pick up it. Its one thing to have 1 hole in the line-up, we have several. These slumps to start the season arent helping.

Andy

April 19th, 2010
1:35 pm

Doubt they can beat Halliday, but the other matchups look favorable. 2 of 3 at home. The kid hits a homerun.

NO MORE BOBBY

April 19th, 2010
1:49 pm

We still owe these guys from that Kelly Johnson flop drop a few years ago.

Marty

April 19th, 2010
1:52 pm

Braves take two of three, the loss being that no hitter Halliday will throw at us. And 4 big slow wide ones to Howard every at bat. Walk him, walk him, walk him, he kills us. Let somebody else beat us for a change.

Stargazer

April 19th, 2010
1:56 pm

If the ump would have gotten the call right at first yesterday, the Braves would be 6-6. Not sure I agree there is any kind of “buzz” about this team yet.

EW

April 19th, 2010
1:57 pm

I am a Braves fan thru and thru..but I can’t help but be excited to see Halliday pitch.

EW

April 19th, 2010
1:59 pm

MB, have you noticed Escobar veering off his normal take everything to right approach ala Edgar Renteria? I think that’s where Yunel becomes a great hitter, I hope he gets that swing going again.

KennyP

April 19th, 2010
2:00 pm

any chance of Hudson / Halladay on Wed?

collegedude

April 19th, 2010
2:04 pm

Falcon fans, come meet & have lunch with 3 Falcon’s legends & support a local charity at the same time. Jeff Van Note, Jessie Tuggle, & Buddy Curry will be there and have a Q&A session with those in attendence. Check it out here: http://www.falconnationcharities.org/lunchwithlegends.html

nique

April 19th, 2010
2:08 pm

Breaking News: SNL is not funny and hasn’t been for a while (except for the recent Zack Galafinackus (sp?) one . Kenan is especially not funny.

JHeyKid

April 19th, 2010
2:09 pm

@Stargazer I guess you’re totally forgetting about the phantom pickoff of Chipper when he was clearly safe. This is baseball, the calls tend to even out.

BuckheadBrave

April 19th, 2010
2:11 pm

or the 4 balks in the 9th inning, only one of which was called and it was the most questionable of them. He even balked with Prado on 3rd, should have been game over right there.

eric the elder

April 19th, 2010
2:22 pm

The slomo/stop action on the Chipper pickoff at 2nd shows he was safe, but he was called out. The slomo/stop action clearly shows Glaus’ foot on the bag, with the ball not yet in Morales’ glove.

If you disagree with the ump’s call on Chipper, but agree on the Glaus call, you are a Braves fan. If you agree with the Chipper call and disagree on the Glaus call, you are a Rockies fan. If you agree or disagree with both calls, it’s a wash.

Kane337

April 19th, 2010
2:24 pm

SNL sucks so I don’t watch it.

Bubba Gump

April 19th, 2010
2:33 pm

The Braves are capable of taking two from the Phillies, but some .120 hitters need to go to Mississippi. Watch out for the Marlins, too.

Freddie G

April 19th, 2010
2:43 pm

The Braves will win 2 0f 3 if the offense gets going, so far they have been very inconsistent. If they hit like they did against the Rockies Phillies will sweep them. The young lefty Venters that came up look really good, and leave me to wonder who made the decision to sent him down and select JoJo on the opening day roster, It must be Bobby. You see having thirty nine years of Baseball experience does’nt mean squat.

LifelongDawg

April 19th, 2010
3:04 pm

The Braves are 7-5 and I’m actually kind of disappointed. I think the city has another winner on its hands. The Falcons, Hawks, and Braves have givien us some good moments the last couple of years. Now, to turn that into great times.

chem

April 19th, 2010
3:10 pm

Lowe won’t get his customary run support and will take a loss against Halladay, but you have to like the matchups with Hanson and Hudson in the first 2.

curtis jones

April 19th, 2010
3:14 pm

1. If a guy pitches a no-hitter against a lineup that includes Glaus, Melky and McLouth, there should be an asterisk in the record books.

2. We’ve seen what Kawakami can do. Career record: 7-14. Every game is the same: 5-6 innings, 3-4 runs allowed. The Braves are always playing from behind, and then he tires early. I’d like to see Cox swap Medlen and Kawakami, ASAP.

chem

April 19th, 2010
3:20 pm

Kawakami was a beast last year after April. I assume there is an adjustment period for a rookie. He had a 3.33 ERA after the break. If he gave up 3-4 runs in 5-6 innings every start he’d have an ERA of 4.50-7.20 — Lay off KK.

chem

April 19th, 2010
3:21 pm

Kawakami had the lowest run support in the majors last year too. A pitchers record is one of the weakest measures of performance.

balismith

April 19th, 2010
3:25 pm

wow braves phillies series in April that means something

Walker, Texas Ranger

April 19th, 2010
3:26 pm

Mark, right on. If you win or lose the division by a game or two, every game with the Pillies will be huge. By the way, Nick the lounge singer is awesome.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

April 19th, 2010
3:30 pm

Pitching Lowe opening day was one of the dumber things Bobby has ever done. SO many to chose from. Smacking the old lady was #1, by a (broken) nose.

Jesse Stone

April 19th, 2010
3:50 pm

Did you know…….that Cole Hamels’ wife Heidi got nekkid when she was a contestant on Survivor??? This was before they were married.