Less than two weeks ago, it looked like the Philadelphia Phillies would have difficulty making the playoffs and a division title was even more of a long shot. Now, they are on the verge of locking up their second straight NL East crown.
The surging Phillies seek their fourth straight win Tuesday night when they continue a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia (89-68) was four games behind wild card-leading Milwaukee and trailed the New York Mets by 3 1/2 in the East after losing to Florida on Sept. 10. Then they swept a four-game series against the Brewers at home and have followed that by winning six of seven to open a 2 1/2-game lead over the struggling Mets in the division.
“I think things can go our way,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “We got five games left. That’s what we’re looking at.”
Slumping Pat Burrell capped a four-run eighth with a three-run homer as the Phillies beat the Braves 6-2 in Monday’s series opener for their fifth straight home victory.
Burrell, who came in batting .176 since Aug. 1, has hit six of his 33 home runs this season against Atlanta (69-88). His homer gave the Phillies at least one in a club-record 18 consecutive games.
Philadelphia’s magic number for clinching the division is four.
“There’s been a couple points during the season when we weren’t playing to our potential,” Burrell said. “Right now we’re going pretty good.”
The Phillies have won six in a row and 14 of 16 meetings against the Braves this season, their most wins in the season series.
“I can’t remember a team beating us like this,” Atlanta’s Chipper Jones said.
Cole Hamels (14-9, 3.10 ERA) has played a big role in Philadelphia’s dominance of the Braves, going 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in four starts against them this season. He won 4-3 at Turner Field on Thursday, allowing two runs and six hits in six innings and is 6-2 with a 3.55 ERA in 10 starts versus Atlanta.
Hamels, who has won consecutive starts and five of his last six decisions, has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his last nine outings.
Braves catcher Brian McCann is 8-for-19 (.421) lifetime against Hamels while Jones is 5-for-15 (.333) with two homers.
Jones singled as a pinch hitter in the ninth Monday, raising his major league-leading batting average to .364. He wasn’t in the starting lineup for the third straight game because of right shoulder inflammation.
Atlanta’s Kelly Johnson had two hits, including a two-run homer, extending his hitting streak to 20 games, the longest in the NL this season.
Mike Hampton (2-3, 5.05) will face the Phillies for the second straight start and third time in 2008. The left-hander is 0-1 with a 6.55 ERA in two starts this season against Philadelphia, allowing four runs—two earned—and six hits over seven innings in Thursday’s home loss.
Hampton is 0-2 with a 3.83 ERA in six starts since beating San Francisco on Aug. 16. He hasn’t received much offensive support from his teammates with the Braves averaging 3.15 runs in those six games.
Hampton is 10-8 with a 3.31 ERA in 28 starts against Philadelphia. He has been particularly tough on Burrell, who is batting .171 (6-for-35) with one homer off the southpaw.