PHILADELPHIA — It's been as if someone flipped the switch to “on” for the Philadelphia Phillies while the Atlanta Braves' dial has been stuck in “off” for the majority of the season.
The bottom two teams in the NL East, the Phillies and Braves open a three-game series in Philadelphia on Monday. They are one week removed from a much-needed All-Star break to regroup… except the Phillies may not want to stop playing anytime soon.
After battling offensive ineptitude for about 75 games, the Phillies' bats have come alive, and it has fueled a 5-1 stretch.
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“I don't know exactly what's happened. I just know we had it in us,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said following Sunday's 7-2 win over Kansas City. “I always felt even for the first two months that we were a better hitting team than it showed and it was kind of an enigma as to why we weren't hitting better. It just took a little time.”
The individual numbers have really turned around as of late. Maikel Franco has been on a torrid stretch that has seen him record multiple hits in five of his last six games. He has also reached base safely in 11 of the last 12 contests. The third basemen ripped a home run on Sunday to cap off a 3-for-4 day.
Cameron Rupp also hit a home run in that game. He is on an eight-game hitting streak that has been highlighted by his last two outings in which he has gone a combined 5-for-8 with three RBIs and two doubles. Cody Asche also hit a home run in their latest victory. Likewise, Peter Bourjos singled to extend his hit streak to 12 games.
“It helps when you've got a guy like Bourjos, who came out of nowhere up to .270,” Mackanin said. “That's an unbelievable story in itself. I think the other players feed off things like that. You know, it's like, 'Well I can do it, too.' I know that's not a scientific answer, but it's the best I can do.”
No explanation needed. It's apparent that the Phillies are trending upward as the All-Star break looms.
Meanwhile, the Braves really have yet to get going, which has led to a forgettable first half. They put together a six-game winning streak in the middle of June but came back down to reality by losing six of eight games immediately afterward.
Their problems run the full gamut. The pitching has been unreliable while the hitting has been streaky. The have also had some bad luck.
On Saturday, the Braves tied the Marlins in the ninth inning with a Tyler Flowers home run. In the 12th inning, the game-winning hit was delivered by pinch-hitter Jose Fernandez, the Miami pitcher. Things like that only add salt to the wounds.
“It was eventful,” Flowers said, according to MLB.com. “I thought we battled well… I think there were a lot of positives to take away. We just couldn't come up with the big hit at the end.”
That could very well sum up the Braves' season: eventful yet left helpless at the end.