Much at stake for Braves vs. Phils
Atlanta’s bid to give Bobby Cox a postseason going-away present in this, his final year as a manager, gets a major test in a series that opens at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. The two teams meet again, in Atlanta, in the final three games of the regular season.
While the Braves go into the Monday series three games back of the Phillies in the NL East, they are 2 1/2 games up on San Diego, which sits No. 2 in the wild card, and 3 1/2 in front of Colorado. St. Louis is a distant fourth, eight games behind the Braves with only 14 games to play.
Every game the Braves lose to the Phillies not only builds on Philadelphia’s divisional edge, but opens the door for one of the NL West contenders to gain ground on Atlanta.
"It's a playoff atmosphere every game we play now,’’ Cox admitted.
Adding to the atmosphere the next three games will be the sellout crowds in Philadelphia, where the fans like the fact that visiting teams don’t like them, along with the fact the Phillies have their Big Three lined up to face the Braves — Cole Hamels on Monday, Roy Halladay on Tuesday and Roy Oswalt on Thursday. They’re a combined 10-0 in 10 starts this month.
A group of scouts at Dodger Stadium was recently discussing the resurgence of the Phillies and their "American League’’-type lineup, which wears down an opposing pitching staff by working pitch counts, then exploding for big innings.
"And that rotation,’’ said one, "isn’t bad, either.’’
Yes, while the Phillies have scored 108 runs in opening the month of September going 15-3, which has allowed them to overtake Atlanta in the NL East, they may have one of the best 1-2-3 punches this side of that old Atlanta trio of potential Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Hamels has been around for a couple of years and was the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series for the Phillies in 2008. Halladay, a Cy Young winner in Toronto, came over in an offseason deal and actually moved ahead of Hamels into the No. 1 spot in the rotation. And then, with the July 31 trade deadline looming, the Phillies added Oswalt from Houston, where he was a two-time 20-game winner and the 2008 NLCS MVP.
Hamels is only 5-3 in his last 13 starts overall, despite a tremendous 1.79 ERA, but the Phillies have won four of the five no-decisions, and he’s allowed only one run in his last 31 1/3 innings. Halladay’s won nine of his last 11 starts. Oswalt’s 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 10 starts since coming over from Houston, and the Phillies are 9-1 in those games.
The Braves will counter the Big Three of Philadelphia with their young three — Jair Jurrjens, 24, who starts Monday; Mike Minor, 22, who starts Tuesday; and Tommy Hanson, 23, who starts Wednesday. The trio has a combined 61 big-league victories — 315 fewer than the combined win total of Halladay (167-86), Oswalt (150-83) and Hamels (59-44).
WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
The postseason seems pretty certain for Tampa Bay and the Yankees. One will win the AL East. The other will be the AL wild card. That, however, doesn’t take away from the emotions of their face-to-face showdowns. They got together in Tampa last week, and the Rays took 2-out-of-3 in a series of one-run games.
Now they’re going to entertain the folks in New York with a four-game series that opens Monday.
Yankee left-hander CC Sabathia, fresh off becoming the season’s first 20-game winner on Saturday at Baltimore, will get his first shot at No. 21 on Thursday against Rays ace David Price in a rematch of their Sept. 13 duel in Tampa. Both pitchers worked eight shutout innings – Sabathia giving up two hits and Price three – in a game the Rays eventually won 1-0 on Reid Brignac’s home run off Sergio Mitre in the bottom of the 11th.
WILD, WILD WEST
San Diego’s 90-day run atop the NL West ended Friday, and while the Padres returned to the top for a day on Saturday, they slipped back into second place — a half-game behind the Giants — on Sunday, losing for the 17th time in 24 games. And both teams are looking over their shoulders at Colorado.
The Rockies knocked around Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, opening up a 6-1 lead in the second inning, but couldn’t finish the game off, eventually losing 7-6 in 11 innings. Still, the Rockies have the attention of the rest of baseball. In three weeks' time, they’ve gone from 11 games out in the NL West to just 1 1/2 games back of the Giants and a single game behind the Padres.
The Padres get a chance to regroup on Monday, then head to Los Angeles for a three-game series, looking for a repeat of their sweep of a three-game series between the two teams at Petco Park earlier this month. The Padres then come home for a weekend visit by NL Central-leading Cincinnati.
The Giants, meanwhile, visit Wrigley Field for three games beginning Tuesday, then slip into Colorado for three weekend games. The Rockies tune up for the Giants with a three-game visit to Arizona that begins on Tuesday. While Arizona’s a distant last place in the NL West, the Rockies have had more trouble against Arizona (6-9) than any other team in the division. They’re 7-8 against the Dodgers, 8-7 against San Francisco and 12-6 against the Padres.
WHAT’S ON TAP
In addition to the Braves' visit to Philadelphia and the NL West matchups:
• Minnesota could clinch the AL Central as early as Wednesday in Cleveland. The Twins, who play at Detroit next weekend, have a magic number of four to finally eliminate Chicago, which will spend the week in California, playing three games in Oakland beginning on Monday and three at Anaheim next week.
• Cincinnati, with a magic number of eight to eliminate St. Louis and clinch the NL Central, is in Milwaukee for three games beginning Monday before the weekend trip to San Diego. The Cardinals, meanwhile, visit Pittsburgh and the Cubs in their bid for a miracle. They not only trail the Reds by six games, but are eight games back of Atlanta in the wild-card race.
• And Boston, which is seven games back of the Yankees in the AL East and 6 1/2 behind wild-card leading Tampa Bay, officially eliminated Toronto on Sunday and attempts to keep its faint postseason hopes alive this week by hosting Baltimore for three games Monday before making the weekend visit to Yankee Stadium.
• Yankee left-hander Andy Pettitte returned to the mound for the first time in two months on Sunday and showed no lingering problems with a strained groin in allowing Baltimore one run in six innings, although the Yankees did suffer a 4-3, 11-inning loss.
• San Diego left-hander Chris Young, out with shoulder soreness since working six shutout innings at Arizona in his season debut, returned to the rotation Saturday, limiting St. Louis to one run in four innings of a game the Padres won 8-4 — San Diego’s only win in a four-game visit to Busch Stadium.
• Colorado acquired RHP Octavio Dotel from the Dodgers on Saturday to give manager Jim Tracy a third right-handed option — along with Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt — in the seventh and eighth innings. The Rockies pick up half of the $500,000 buyout on Dotel’s option for 2011.
• Giants center fielder Andres Torres, who underwent an emergency appendectomy on Sept. 12, could actually be available the final week of the season. The Giants were 57-40 when he hits leadoff and 27-26 without him.
• Atlanta reliever Takashi Saito was shut down for the season after coming out of Friday’s game with renewed right shoulder problems.
• Colorado 3B Ian Stewart, out with a pulled rib-cage muscle, will report to the Rockies’ Arizona Instructional League workouts on Monday with the expectation that he can rejoin the active roster for the weekend visit of the Giants to Coors Field.
ADDING THEM UP
• Ten games remain in September, and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki already has a team record for home runs in a month (14) and has tied the franchise record for RBI in a month (34). He’s three home runs shy of the major league record for home runs in September, which Babe Ruth set in 1927 and Albert Belle matched in 1995. Ralph Kiner had the NL record for September with 16 home runs in 1949.
• Sixty-four games behind the plate, including 63 started at catcher, for Buster Posey since the Giants called him up this year. The Giants are attempting to become only the seventh team to advance to the World Series with a rookie catcher. Only two rookies have caught for teams that won world championships — Wally Schang, 1913 Philadelphia A’s; and Joe Garagiola, 1946 St. Louis Cardinals. The four teams that lost the World Series with rookie catchers were the 1935 Chicago Cubs, Ken O’Dea; 1944 St. Louis Browns, Red Hayworth and Fran Mancuso; 1961 Cincinnati Reds, Jerry Zimmerman and Johnny Edwards; and 2004 St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina.
• Fifteen wins for the Yankees in 31 games against teams headed to the postseason. They’re 4-2 against Minnesota, 6-8 against Tampa Bay, 4-4 against Texas and 1-2 against Philadelphia. They’re 26-9 against last-place teams — 13-4 against Baltimore, 5-3 against Kansas City, 6-4 against Seattle and 2-1 against Arizona.
"When they built that damn ballpark, we didn't have a prayer. They started printing money and hitting shorter home runs,’’ Atlanta president John Schuerholz on the emergence of the Phillies as an NL East power coinciding with the team’s move into Citizens Bank Park.