Slowly, the Atlanta Braves are closing on in the NL East lead.
They’ll look to end a crucial six-game road trip on a high note Sunday when they close out a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves (62-55) started the week 4 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Mets, but took two of three in New York before splitting the first two games in this series. With Saturday’s 7-5 win, they moved 2 1/2 games behind the Mets - the closest they’ve been to first place since July 21 - and leapfrogged the Phillies (61-55) into second place in the East.
Atlanta hasn’t been within 1 1/2 games of the division lead since July 16.
“We’re gaining games on the road, which is huge,” Braves catcher Brian McCann told the team’s official Web site.
The road trip also is Atlanta’s first since a flurry of moves at the trade deadline. Slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, acquired in a blockbuster deal with Texas, has driven in a run in all five games of the road swing and recorded back-to-back triples with Chipper Jones on Saturday.
“You probably won’t see that again in the history of the game, or at least in our franchise,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Reliever Ron Mahay, who also came to Atlanta in the Teixeira deal, has thrown 3 1/3 scoreless innings on the trip and got three quick outs in relief of starter Lance Cormier in the fifth inning Saturday to defuse a Philadelphia rally.
“My job is to get him off the hook,” he said. “Fortunately enough, I got out of there unscathed.”
The Phillies, meanwhile, lost for just the second time in six games despite homers from Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand. They remained three games behind the Mets and haven’t been within two since June 22
However, they’ll be handing the ball to veteran Jamie Moyer (10-8, 4.70 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 2.50 ERA in eight starts against the NL East this season. He allowed three runs in seven innings of an 8-3 win on May 25 in his lone start against the Braves this year and is just 2-6 with a 5.04 ERA in nine career appearances - eight starts - against them.
Moyer allowed one run in six innings of Tuesday’s 11-1 win over Florida, improving to 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA over his last four starts since losing three in a row.
Atlanta counters with Buddy Carlyle (7-3, 4.28), who is 6-1 with a 3.21 ERA over his last eight starts. The journeyman right-hander gave up three runs in five innings of Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the Mets.
“He’s our MVP, to come and do what he’s done,” Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur said.
Carlyle’s only previous start against the Phillies came in his season debut on May 26, when he was pounded for five runs in four innings of a 6-4 home loss.
“I know my role,” he said. “Try to keep my team in the game every game, give my team a chance to win. If I can do that, I’ve done my job.”