The Philadelphia Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the National League East and the Braves know it. They may not need to beat the Phillies, but that hasn’t stopped them from kicking the Phillies while they are down. Monday night’s win against the Phillies was the Braves’ 7th consecutive win against the Phils, the most consecutive Braves wins against the rival Phillies 1997. When the series wrapped Wednesday, the Braves had dropped only 1 game to the Phils in their previous 9 meetings. Not a bad record at all against the 5-time division champions.
Monday night was a reminder to the league that Ben Sheets is for real. How foolish must other clubs feel for not taking a chance on the established right hander? The great equalizer, as many of Sheets’ teammates call his curveball, has been absolutely stunning since his return to Major League Baseball. Devotees to the game must feel as if they’re watching vintage Sheets every time he takes the mound. In Monday’s outing, Sheets went 7 1/3 innings, allowing an earned run (a homer by Mayberry in the 4th inning) on 7 hits. Sheets’ performance was supported by the bats of Freeman, McCann, Heyward and Bourn. It’s beginning to look like high socks Mondays are here to stay–the Braves are 2-0 on Mondays since switching to tall socks. Yes, baseball players are a superstitious bunch. After going 0-12 on Mondays, the Braves were willing to do just about anything to get a Monday win, save for maybe sacrificing a live chicken in the clubhouse before a game.
If it’s possible for one pitcher to be the victim of poor run support for the entire rotation, Mike Minor is that guy. Though Minor has given up key runs early in games, often home runs, before buckling down and being dominant, he has often pitched a solid game without the benefit of run support behind him. Minor’s ERA has been steadily declining, dropping nearly a point per month in both June and July. Minor pitched well, but was simply out-dueled by Cole Hamels. Minor’s recent success on the mound, limiting runs and cutting down on the number of home runs he gives up, is showing up each time he goes out. Once Minor has the confidence to match his talent, he is going to be a force in the league and for years to come.
The final game of the series was anchored by veteran Tim Hudson who has been huge for the Braves in 2012. Huddy had won 4 straight decisions prior to his Wednesday night start. While Hudson pitched well, the Phillies were able to tie up the game with an incredible 5 runs in the 5th inning, taking Hudson out of line for the win. However, Hudson was as much responsible for getting himself in line for the win early on as any other Brave. Phillies’ Kendrick put Paul Janish on base to phase the Braves pitcher, apparently not knowing Hudson’s stats at Auburn (as Hudson is proud to remind anyone who will listen). The veteran made Kendrick pay by smacking a 2-run double. Hudson is now 5-for-11 with a pair of doubles since the all-star break. The Braves are now 6-0 in Hudson’s starts since July 6th. Additionally, Atlanta has won 14 of his 18 starts this season.
Hudson wasn’t the only player responsible for some unlikely heroics in the final game of the series. The season-long slump of Dan Uggla seemed to break for a night and propelled the Braves to the win. There was plenty positive about Uggla’s night and not just because it led to the win. Uggla has extra base hits, 11 RBIs, and a hearty .840 OPS in his past 10 games. This is a welcome sight for the Braves and Uggla himself after he had 4 extra base hits, 9 RBIs, and a .461 OPS in his previous 42 games. And, perhaps the most unlikely happening of the night was a stolen base by none other than backup catcher David Ross. David has played in the big leagues for 11 seasons and had never recorded a stolen base. After the game, Ross asked the Philadelphia grounds crew if he could have the second base bag and they obliged. The best backup catcher in the game plans to display the bag in his house.
Line scores from the 3-game set in Philly:
W: Sheets (4-1) L: Worley (6-7)
W: Hamels (12-6) L: Minor (6-8)
W: Durbin (4-1) L: Bastardo (2-4)
3-GAME SET AT CITI FIELD…
Friday: Maholm (9-7, 3.75) vs. Harvey (1-2, 3.86)
Saturday: Medlen (2-1, 2.37) vs. Santana (6-7, 3.98)
Sunday: Sheets (4-1, 1.41) vs. Niese (8-6, 3.82)
The Braves are 22-8 since July 4th, a pace that has demonstrated to the baseball world just how special this 2012 team is. The New York Mets, on the other hand, have struggled since the all-star break and are going in the opposite direction.
Despite the league-leading wins of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Mets starters has fallen victim to injury and constant changes to their rotation. The Braves will miss seeing Dickey while in the Big Apple. They will see rookie Matt Harvey for the first time. Harvey had an impressive big league debut, striking out 11 batters in just over 5 innings. While guys like Dickey and Santana are the organization’s present, the Mets hope Harvey figures into the long-term future of the club. Things may be bleak for the Mets right now, but the future is bright.
Every game the Braves can put in the win column is important at this point in the season as they continue to look up at the Washington Nationals. Going into the series at Citi Field, the Braves are 4 1/2 games back in the division and atop the Wild Card standings (1 game better than Pittsburgh).
The Braves and Mets get underway at Citi Field at 7:10 (EST).
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