Braves-Phillies Preview

The Atlanta Braves have been shut down by the first two

Philadelphia Phillies All-Stars they’ve faced.

Generating offense in the finale doesn’t seem like it will be

any easier.

All-Star Cole Hamels looks to continue his recent dominance and

help the Phillies hold off the charging Braves on Sunday at

Citizens Bank Park.

In Friday’s opener, Roy Halladay, who has been selected to his

eighth All-Star game, limited Atlanta (54-37) to two runs and six

hits over seven innings in Philadelphia’s 3-2, 10-inning win.

Cliff Lee was even better a day later, yielding a run and three

hits while striking out nine over eight innings. The three-time

All-Star Lee accounted for his team’s only run with his first

career homer, however, and the Phillies ended up losing 4-1 in 11

innings.

Atlanta’s Alex Gonzalez singled home the go-ahead run and Brian

McCann followed with a two-run homer to help the Braves pull within

2 1/2 games of NL East-leading Philadelphia (56-34).

“We have to keep close to these guys,” Gonzalez said. “Both

teams have great teams. We’re still fighting and we want to keep it

close.”

The Phillies, owners of the best record in baseball, are trying

to match a franchise record with 57 victories before the All-Star

break, set in 1993. If they don’t win the series finale, however,

the Braves will be 1 1/2 games out of first place for the first

time since May 17.

“They’ve been playing well and are right behind us,” Lee

said.

While Atlanta has been held in check by Halladay and Lee,

Philadelphia’s offense hasn’t been much better.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are a combined 2 for 19 in the first

two games of this series, and Philadelphia has left 17 runners on

base. Utley’s season-best 11-game hitting streak came to an end

Saturday, but he is batting .400 with two homers in 30 at-bats

against scheduled starter Derek Lowe (5-6, 4.21 ERA).

Hamels (10-4, 2.40) ranks among the league leaders in wins, ERA

and strikeouts (115), and was named to his second All-Star game

last week. He has been sensational in his last eight starts,

posting a 1.60 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP while yielding two runs or fewer

in each outing.

A line drive to the right hand forced Hamels out of his start

against Boston on June 30 after four innings, but it didn’t seem to

faze him his next time out. Against Florida on Tuesday, the

left-hander gave up two runs and eight hits in eight innings of a

14-2 win.

Hamels, 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three starts against Atlanta this

year, has limited Dan Uggla to a .130 batting average with 14

strikeouts in 46 career at-bats, but the Braves second baseman

finally appears to breaking out of his season-long slump.

Uggla touched up Lee for his only run Saturday, hitting a solo

homer in the fifth inning. He is batting .389 with three homers and

five RBIs in his last five games, and will likely be counted on to

carry a bit more of Atlanta’s offense with Chipper Jones (right

knee) going on the disabled list Saturday.

Lowe is enduring an up-and-down season, but has been solid in

two starts against the Phillies, going 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA. The

sinkerballer has a 1.61 ERA in his last four starts versus

Philadelphia, and has yielded two runs or fewer in four of five

starts at Citizens Bank Park since 2009.

Lowe gave up three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings in

Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Colorado. The right-hander has won

back-to-back starts after going winless in his previous nine.