The Phillies-Braves NL East showdown is turning anticlimactic. In fact, the Phillies-Braves showdown next weekend could be useless, as far as the Phillies-Braves NL East race. By then, Philadelphia could have long since clinched the division title, and home field throughout the entire postseason. But perhaps it will benefit Atlanta if that happens, as it then might be less difficult to beat them next weekend and go to the playoffs. Yet if the Phillies-Braves race for the division is to have any suspense left, tonight may be Atlanta’s last chance.
After winning the first two games of the series by two runs each, Philadelphia is now five games ahead of Atlanta. If they complete the series sweep tonight, they will be up by six and have a magic number of four. That may all but clinch the NL East for them, for a fourth year in a row.
Before now, the Phillies-Braves showdowns this week and next were expected to be nail biting. In fact, the two meet in the final weekend of the season, but now it may be meaningless in the division race. That is just as well for Philadelphia, since Atlanta has one of the best home records in baseball.
Yet the Phillies-Braves series in Philadelphia is showing the Phillies’ own home field advantage, and the Braves’ own road struggles. Errors doomed Atlanta on Monday night, and two big hits by Jason Werth and Raul Ibanez knocked them out last night. All of a sudden, not only has Atlanta forfeited a big lead in the NL East, they are now only one game ahead for the wild card.
Fortunately for Atlanta, the entire final week of their regular season is at home, where they are 52-23 – although few people attend their games. If they don’t lose any more ground in both races this week, they can still use home field to secure Bobby Cox’s final postseason berth.
Meanwhile, the Phillies-Braves series has gotten the defending NL champs closer to bigger things. If they sweep Atlanta, they can ease towards clinching the division – and resting their three aces – before the next weekend. Not only that, if they clinch the NL’s best record, they will have home field advantage at intimidating Citizens Bank Park for the entire postseason. They have the Braves to thank for that, after Brian McCann got the winning hit at the All-Star Game.
All of the momentum is in Philadelphia’s favor, thanks to Cole Hamels, 20 game winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and a tentatively healthy lineup. However, they still want the Phillies-Braves series to end in a sweep, in order to start putting the nails on the coffin. Oswalt will go out tonight to secure that, and match Hamels and Halladay’s victories on Monday and Tuesday.
Unless Atlanta can salvage a game, the Phillies-Braves series will force them to start looking exclusively at the wild card standings. Since the Padres and Rockies are close to overtaking them, like the Phillies already have, they still have far too much to play for.
Atlanta Journal Constitution- “Phillies beat Braves, take five-game lead in East”
CBS Sports- “Lidge slides back to dominance with a slide no one can hit”