With their unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles now over, the Atlanta Braves can focus on the wild card to keep their playoff streak alive.
After rain postponed Tuesday’s series opener, Philadelphia and Atlanta will meet in a doubleheader at Turner Field on Wednesday.
This is the third doubleheader between the teams in 11 days. The Braves (69-74) and Phillies (72-71) split twinbills at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia on Sept. 2-3.
The Braves were mathematically eliminated from the divisional race when the New York Mets rallied for a 6-4 win over Florida on Tuesday. Atlanta is is just five games behind San Diego in the wild card race, but must leapfrog six teams to get into the postseason.
“The margin for error is very small,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said Tuesday. “The players know that, and they’re going to keep giving it their best shot.”
Second-year Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur wasn’t thinking of the end of the streak which began when he was only 6 years old.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can the next six games and see what happens,” he said.
The Braves lost 8-3 to the lowly Chicago Cubs on Monday night, failing to wrap up a four-game sweep. John Smoltz, who pitched the game that clinched Atlanta’s 1991 division crown, gave up six runs in just two innings Monday before leaving with a sore groin.
The Phillies are two games behind the Padres after San Diego’s 5-4 loss in 11 innings to Cincinnati on Tuesday.
“We’re still right there,” second baseman Chase Utley said. “We have to keep fighting, and, hopefully, we’ll be there at the end.”
The Phillies were limited to three hits by Florida’s Dontrelle Willis in a 3-0 loss Sunday.
Ryan Howard, who leads the majors with 56 home runs, hit .692 (9-for-13) with three homers in the series and has connected seven times in his last eight games.
Randy Wolf (3-0, 4.97 ERA) will start the opener for Philadelphia. He allowed two runs in six innings of the Phillies’ 5-3 loss to Houston on Wednesday, but did not earn a decision.
Wolf, who missed the beginning of the season while recovering from elbow surgery, has made eight starts, lasting more than five innings in just three of them.
The Phillies won each of his first six outings, with Wolf getting the victory in three straight starts from Aug. 15-25, but have lost in his last two.
Wolf is 4-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 20 appearances, including 18 starts, against the Braves.
Atlanta will counter with Kyle Davies (2-5, 7.56), who gave up six runs in five innings of Wednesday’s 8-0 loss to the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader.
The start was the second for the right-hander after missing three months with a groin strain. He allowed seven runs in 2 1-3 innings of a 16-4 loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 2 in his first start back.
“I thought I made some progress today, but obviously you’d like to give your team a chance to win,” Davies said.
Davies is 0-3 with a 19.64 ERA in three career outings versus Philadelphia. His only other start against them came April 13, when he gave up six runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 7-6 loss.
Jon Lieber (7-9, 4.99) gets the call for the Phillies in the second game. The right-hander has struggled much of this season after leading Philadelphia with 17 win a year ago, although he seems to have recently regained his form.
In six starts since losing to the New York Mets on Aug. 5, Lieber is 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA and a complete game. He had his shortest outing over that span in his last start, giving up four runs and seven hits over 5 1-3 innings Thursday in 14-8 win over Florida.
“I had to bear down after that,” Lieber said. “I was embarrassed by that first inning.
Lieber did not get a decision in his only start of the season against Atlanta in a 4-3 loss on Sept. 2 in the opener of a doubleheader.
Looking to win his fifth consecutive decision, Tim Hudson (12-10, 4.85) will start the second game for the Braves. In seven starts after defeating Philadelphia on Aug. 8, the right-hander is 4-0 with a 3.66 ERA.
Hudson got the win on Friday over the Cubs despite giving up four runs—on earned—and six hits through six innings of an 8-4 win. Eleven of the 18 outs Hudson recorded came on the ground; the other seven came by strikeout.
“It’s nice to be able to get some ground balls and keep the guys on the infield in the game,” Hudson said.
He’s 2-0 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season.