For 14 years, opponents knew they had to go through Atlanta to get to the playoffs—and, to the World Series.
For the past three years, they go through Philly.
It may only be April 20 and the first of many meetings between these two divisional foes, but for the Braves it is never too early to make a good impression.
After all, first place is up for grabs.
The Phillies hold a one-game lead over the third-place Braves in the NL East standings coming into tonight’s series opener at Turner Field.
Atlanta spent over a decade at the top of the National League East, but in recent years they have taken their lumps in an effort to regain the level of excellence they had come to expect.
The Braves haven’t tasted October since 2005, but last season after a strong, albeit late push for the NL Wild Card, they got one step closer to returning to the playoffs.
This year, they are billed as the Phillies chief competition in the NL East.
While an April series isn’t make-or-break for either club, the buzz surrounding this series is unmistakable.
Last year, the Braves knew they waited too long before making their playoff run and just ran out of games.
It is these pesky games early in the season that often count just as large as the ones in September, but are long forgotten when a team comes up a game or two short of the postseason.
Still, don’t expect these Braves to put too much stock in this series outcome.
Atlanta won’t wave the red flag if they lose the series and they surely won’t become complacent if they win it.
But, what a series win would do for the Braves is send a message to the Phillies that the preseason hype surrounding this club was legit.
And, let’s not forget that last season, Atlanta handled Philly with relative ease in the early going.
The Braves were winners of seven of the first nine meetings between the teams, including a series sweep just before the fourth of July.
Then, Ryan Howard happened.
Howard torched the Braves over the final nine games between the clubs, of which his team won six, blasting eight home runs.
However, Atlanta still won the season series 10-8, but still fell short of the playoffs.
The Braves know at the very least, a series win is expected again this year if they hope to reach the postseason.
And, if they hope to make a legitimate run at the World Series, they figure they will see these Phillies again— in the NLCS.
The hope and buzz surrounding this year’s squad lends credence to the belief that the Braves can compete with any team in the league— even the big, bad Phillies.
With Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe lined up to pitch in this series, the Braves expect their starters to go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia’s.
No surprise there.
The Braves have always won with pitching, and their staff has rivaled if not exceeded the Phillies starters over recent years.
But what the Bravos have this year, that they haven’t had in the past, is their very own one-man wreaking crew.
His name is Jason Heyward.
While the comparisons between Heyward and Howard have begun, it is far too early in the youngster’s career to pit him against Philly’s RBI machine.
But for those of you looking to add to the fodder, in the season’s first two weeks, Heyward does have one more RBI.
The Phillies are about to get their first glimpse at the beast that is the “J-Hey Kid,” and pardon me if they don’t feel a little deja vu.
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