Three games against the first place Phils.
Atlanta’s aspirations for an NL East crown are at stake and anything short of a series win against Philadelphia will all but end those hopes.
So, to say this is a big series, is an understatement.
The Braves, while publicly claiming they weren’t overlooking their two-game set against the Washington Nationals, have understandably had their sights on this upcoming series against the Phillies all week long.
But, to their credit, the Bravos have set themselves up quite nicely for Philadelphia, sweeping the pesky Nats.
However, to Philly’s credit, they are coming into tonight’s series against Atlanta riding high after sweeping the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
A series that was looming large figures to live up to the billing.
The Braves are hot, having won five games in a row, heading into Friday night’s opener.
The Phils seem to have caught fire again thanks to their sweep of the Cubs, after previously dropping eight of eleven before heading to Chicago.
If there is one thing that can be said about the Phillies, it is that they are one streaky club.
They have gone on runs where they are absolutely unbeatable and then without any warning, will go cold at the drop of a hat.
The Braves are hoping the Phillies are due for another cold spurt.
Atlanta is slated to send Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, and Javier Vazquez to the hill in this series.
Philadelphia will counter with Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, and J.A. Happ.
The Braves have to be pleased that they will not be facing Cliff Lee this weekend. Lee hasn’t lost since joining the Phillies in a trade from the Cleveland Indians in late July.
Another thing that weighs heavily in the Braves’ favor is their head-to-head success against the Phillies this season.
Atlanta has won seven of nine from Philadelphia and has shown they can outpitch their division rival.
If the Braves are going to take this series from the Phils, they again will need big performances out of their starting staff.
The Bravos know the tall task before them. They need to win two of three, and stay four games back to remain in the hunt for the East.
If not, Atlanta will have to focus its attention on the NL Wild, if they hope to play October baseball.
Still, for a Braves club that lost 90 games last season, to be factoring so heavily into the division race is quite remarkable.
The Phillies, like most other teams in the league, underestimated the Braves.
The Mets figured to be chasing down the Phils, again, not the Braves.
But, for a team that has thrived all season long by flying under the radar, they are about to get a dose of big time publicity if they can take this series from Philly.
I think the Braves are up to the challenge.
It is because, for once, they are playing the role of the underdog.
During their run of divisional dominance that saw them assume the title of, “Beasts of the NL East,” the Braves were labeled the favorites, year in and year out.
With the fourteen consecutive division titles came the constant question of, “When would the run end?”
That pressure and the resulting media scrutiny that followed, became larger than life and often crippling.
The Braves aren’t use to being in this situation.
All eyes are on the Phillies… not them.
They have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And, it’s for that reason, that I think the Braves will take care of business this weekend.
Forging ahead… IF this Braves team does infact make the playoffs, I think they are a force to be reckoned with.
I believe the main reason why the Braves struggled to find postseason success stems from the fact that they were rarely challenged by their division rivals during the season.
If you look at Atlanta’s past four playoff losses from 2002-2005, where they were eliminated in the first round, you’ll notice their opponents –the Giants, Cubs, Astros and Astros again, were all Wild Card winners.
The Braves, by contrast, were runaway division champs, often 100-plus game winners.
While there opponents were scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs, the Braves were resting their regulars a month before the playoffs were set to begin, not participating in a meaningful game.
As a result, the Braves found it difficult to just flip the switch and recapture the intensity that had alluded them for the past month.
I’ve always said since then that a good, heated division or wild card race would be good for the Braves.
Series’ like this upcoming one against the Phillies builds character.
It is a precursor to the types of series’ and the level of intensity that would await them in October.
If this Braves team gets into the playoffs, their fate could be much different than those teams of the past.
The Braves, and their fans, just hope they get that chance.