Ryan Howard had a little extra time to celebrate setting the Philadelphia Phillies’ single-season home run record. Now the first baseman can focus on another feat—helping his team make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
The Phillies (67-66) continue that push Saturday when they meet the Atlanta Braves (63-69) in a day-night doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park.
Friday’s scheduled series opener was postponed because of rain from tropical depression Ernesto. The contest was not immediately rescheduled and the teams may play another doubleheader Sunday or make up the game Sept. 25, their next common off day.
Philadelphia trails San Diego by a half-game in the tight NL wild-card race, while the Braves are four games back.
The Phillies failed to complete a sweep of Washington on Thursday, losing 6-5 in 10 innings. Philadelphia blew a two-run lead in the ninth and a one-run advantage in the 10th.
Howard was a bright spot in the defeat, hitting his 49th homer to break the franchise record set in 1980 by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. The 2005 NL rookie of the year leads the majors in homers and RBIs (128), and had a major-league best 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in August.
Howard, though, has been reluctant to talk about the home run record, keeping the emphasis on his club making it to the postseason.
“You don’t want to take away from everything the team is doing,” Howard said. “Right now, it’s been a fun ride. … Everyone looks at it the way they want to look at it.”
The Phillies first baseman is 11-for-27 (.407) with six home runs and 16 RBIs in his last eight games. He’s batting .425 (17-for-40) with three homers and nine RBIs in 11 games against the Braves this season.
Jon Lieber (6-9, 5.09 ERA) starts the opener for Philadelphia on Saturday looking to continue his solid pitching, having gone 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in his last four starts. The right-hander is 9-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 12 September starts over the past two seasons.
Lieber allowed four runs and 10 hits in six innings of an 11-5 loss to the New York Mets on Saturday, and didn’t factor in the decision.
“I made some mistakes, there’s no doubt,” he said. “I was lucky to get out of there with just four runs.”
Lieber is 5-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 16 games against the Braves. He went 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts against them last year, but has not faced them this season.
Scott Mathieson (1-4, 7.23) makes his first start for Philadelphia in more than two weeks in the nightcap. The right-hander, called up from Triple-A Scranton on Friday, will be trying to avoid losing his third straight decision. He is 0-2 with an 11.45 ERA in his last three starts.
Mathieson allowed six earned runs and eight hits, matching season highs, in four innings of a 7-2 loss to the Mets on Aug. 17. The 22-year-old rookie has pitched six innings or more in just two of his seven starts this season.
He’ll make his first start against the Braves, who also failed to complete a sweep Thursday, losing 8-6 to San Francisco and having their four-game winning streak snapped.
Jeff Francoeur went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs on Thursday. He’s hitting .310 (13-for-42) with four homers and 12 RBIs in 11 games against the Phillies this season.
Oscar Villarreal (9-1, 4.17), who has been moved into the rotation after spending most of the season in the bullpen, makes his fourth straight start for the Braves in the first game.
Villarreal allowed one run in 10 innings in his first two starts, but struggled in his last outing. The right-hander gave up four runs in three innings of a 13-6 victory over Washington.
He is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in three starts this season after going 8-1 with a 4.48 ERA in 47 games out of the bullpen.
Villarreal is 2-2 with a 7.71 ERA in 11 career games against Philadelphia, all in relief. He’s 1-0 with a 10.38 ERA in four outings against them this season.
Kyle Davies (2-3, 6.12) takes the ball for Atlanta in the second game, making his first start since having his right groin surgically repaired in May.
“I’m ready to go,” Davies said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve pitched, and it’s neat to come right back into the (playoff) race. It will get the adrenaline going.”
Davies went 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA during his final three rehab starts, one with Double-A Mississippi and two with Triple-A Richmond.
He is 0-2 with a 16.20 ERA in two career appearances against the Phillies, including a 7-6 loss April 13. Davies allowed six runs and nine hits over 4 2-3 innings in that game, his only start against Philadelphia.
Davies could face a Phillies lineup that includes first baseman Randall Simon, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers organization for cash Friday. Simon hit .308 with one home run and 10 RBIs in a combined 24 games between Triple-A Oklahoma and the rookie-level Arizona League Rangers.
Simon, who spent his first three seasons with Atlanta, is hitting .283 with 49 home runs and 235 RBIs in 514 career games.
The Braves acquired outfielder Daryle Ward from Washington on Thursday. Ward, who hit .308 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 78 games this season, will be used primarily as a left-handed pinch-hitter.