The Philadelphia Phillies hope a 23-year-old rookie can help them gain a share of the NL East lead. The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, will rely on a future Hall of Famer to extend their slim playoff hopes for at least one more day.
Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies try to move closer to the top of the division and eliminate John Smoltz and the Braves from postseason consideration as the teams conclude a three-game series Thursday night.
Philadelphia (86-72) continued its furious push for the NL East title with a 5-2 victory over Atlanta (83-75) on Wednesday. The win, coupled with a loss by the New York Mets, drew the Phillies within one game of the division lead - the closest they’ve been since losing on opening day.
Manager Charlie Manuel’s team has made up six games in the NL East standings since Sept. 12. The Phillies also are tied with Colorado in the wild card chase, one game behind San Diego.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said winning pitcher Kyle Lohse, who allowed two runs in seven innings. “You have a lot of pressure, but you have to block it out.”
That pressure now falls upon Kendrick (9-4, 3.83) to build on the effort by Lohse, who became the first Phillies starting pitcher in nearly two weeks to last seven innings. Kendrick has won four of his last five decisions, but did not get one Saturday at Washington, where he left after conceding only an unearned run in six innings before Philadelphia won 4-1 in 10 innings.
“Every game is huge right now,” the right-hander told the Phillies’ official Web site after that game. “There aren’t many left on the schedule. All we can do is win and give ourselves a chance.”
He didn’t get a decision in his lone start against Atlanta after he was reached for two runs and six hits in five innings on Sept. 5.
While Kendrick is new to pressure-packed games in the majors, the same cannot be said for the 40-year-old Smoltz (14-7, 2.95). As has been the case for most of his career, the right-hander has been leading the Braves and he is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his last four starts.
That experience will come in handy as the Braves must win their final four games and have San Diego, Colorado and Philadelphia all lose their remaining games to have any chance of avoiding their second straight year out of the playoffs.
Smoltz failed to get a decision in his most recent outing, giving up two runs over eight innings before the Braves posted a 4-3, 11-inning victory over Milwaukee.
“We won,” Smoltz said. “I don’t care if my next game is 12-11, we want to win as many times as we can.”
He opened his 19th major league season against the Phillies on April 2, yielding three runs in six innings in Atlanta’s 5-3, 10-inning victory. Smoltz, who has not gotten a decision in his last three starts versus Philadelphia, is 13-12 with 11 saves and a 3.55 ERA in 34 starts and 63 lifetime appearances.
Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins is one triple shy of becoming the fourth player in major league history with 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a single season. He’s 12-for-34 (.353) with three homers and three doubles lifetime against Smoltz.
First baseman Ryan Howard - still at 195 strikeouts and one shy of setting a single-season record - is 3-for-8 versus Smoltz, but Pat Burrell is just 2-for-25 (.080) with 13 strikeouts against the veteran right-hander.