The Atlanta Braves emerge from the All-Star break in a virtual tie atop the NL East, while the Philadelphia Phillies may already be focusing on next season.
The Braves attempt to regain sole possession of first place in the division and continue their recent success against the visiting Phillies in the opener of this three-game set Friday night.
Atlanta returns from the break without Dan Uggla, who was released Friday. The three-time NL All-Star was batting .162 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 48 games, and is still owed over $18 million over the remainder of this year and next.
He lost his job to Tommy La Stella when the rookie second baseman was called up May 28. The Braves’ patience with Uggla appeared to wear thin last Sunday when he was suspended one game for reporting just 30 minutes before the start of a game in Chicago.
After winning the East last season, Atlanta (52-43) is percentage points behind Washington for the top spot in 2014. The Phillies, meanwhile, occupy the division’s cellar and appear set to miss the postseason for a third straight year.
The Braves certainly looked like playoff contenders while sweeping a four-game set at Philadelphia from June 27-29, kicking off a season-high nine-game winning streak that put them alone atop the East.
They followed that by dropping five of six before scoring a combined 21 runs in a pair of wins over the Chicago Cubs.
"You obviously want to be winning your division, but it’s not a bad thing to be tied," closer Craig Kimbrel told MLB’s official website.
Kimbrel, who struck out the side in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s All-Star game, was a big part of Atlanta’s dominance of the Phillies three weeks ago. He tossed a pair of scoreless innings and earned saves in both of his appearances, as the Braves’ bullpen allowed one run in 10 1-3 innings with the staff compiling a 1.75 ERA.
Ervin Santana (7-6, 4.01 ERA) chipped in with his own strong performance in that series, allowing two runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 10-3 victory June 28 before Atlanta’s 5-1 victory completed a sweep of the doubleheader.
Santana, though, wasn’t as sharp at home against the Phillies (42-53) on June 17, yielding four runs in six innings of a 5-2 defeat. The Braves went on to be swept in that three-game home series.
Atlanta hopes the break didn’t cool off Jason Heyward, who went 12 for 30 (.400) during a seven-game hitting streak prior to the time off. However, he’s 4 for 33 in 10 season meetings with Philadelphia, going 0 for 10 in the most recent series.
The Phillies matched a season high with five consecutive wins before dropping their final two games before the break to Washington. A roster shakeup ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline could be looming for Philadelphia.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels have reportedly claimed they’d like to stay in Philadelphia, but closer Jonathan Papelbon prefers to be dealt.
"Some guys want to stay on a losing team?" Papelbon told MLB’s official website. "That’s mind-boggling to me."
A.J. Burnett (6-8, 3.83) could join Papelbon on the way out of Philadelphia, but he’s not making demands.
"I signed here to play here," Burnett said. "I’m not a guy who looks for an out or wants to get out because things aren’t going the right way. If that happens, then it happens, but I’m not looking to move on. This is my team. I understand how things work, but I’m trying not to worry about it."
The veteran right-hander has produced seven straight quality starts, compiling a 2.94 ERA and .209 opponent batting average during that span.
He’s 0-3 with a 4.56 ERA in his last four starts against the Braves despite tossing three-hit ball over seven innings in a 1-0 home win April 17.
Burnett is winless in his last 10 starts at Turner Field, dating to a victory with Florida on Oct. 7, 2001.