Barring a total collapse over the season’s final 17 games, the Philadelphia Phillies will win the NL East for the third consecutive season.
For now, though, they can’t claim to be any hotter than the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves will look to win eight straight for the first time in more than six years Friday night against the visiting Phillies, who would love to extend their own five-game streak and widen the gap between themselves and Atlanta.
Philadelphia (85-60) has won eight of its last 10 after being swept in four games at Houston, a stretch that has reduced its magic number to 10 to clinch another division title.
Their hot streak has been critical considering the recent play of the Braves (78-68), who at the very least look like they’ll make the NL wild-card race interesting. Atlanta beat the New York Mets 7-3 on Thursday for its seventh victory in a row, bringing it within 4 1/2 games of Colorado for the wild card and keeping it 7 1/2 behind Philadelphia in the East.
The Braves, who haven’t won eight straight since July 4-11, 2003, have averaged 6.4 runs during their streak and are 10 games above .500 for the first time since May 16, 2007.
“This is the best we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said catcher Brian McCann(notes), who hit a three-run homer and is batting .500 with nine RBIs since Sept. 10. “It feels great because we could have folded. … There’s nothing to lose. At the end (of the regular season), we hope it will be enough. We’ll see.”
Atlanta’s offensive hot streak figures to be put to the test against a Philadelphia rotation that’s looking as good as any in the majors. Cole Hamels(notes) was the latest Phillies starter to dominate, allowing a run over eight innings while striking out 10 Thursday in a 4-2 win over Washington.
That run was the only one Philadelphia’s rotation has allowed in 31 innings over the past four games.
“This is the best starting pitching we’ve had since I’ve been here,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Phillies will have their top starter in terms of ERA on the hill Friday as they look to keep rolling, but they can’t be entirely sure what to expect from J.A. Happ(notes) (10-4, 2.77 ERA). The rookie hasn’t pitched since Sept. 2 because of a strained ribcage muscle, but threw 20 pitches in a bullpen session Wednesday and was pronounced good to go.
Happ, considered among the front-runners for NL rookie of the year honors, was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in his last two starts before the injury. He’s 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA in two starts against the Braves - both at Turner Field - and that success shouldn’t come as a surprise. His 1.88 ERA on the road is the best in all of baseball.
Hudson had a 2.19 ERA in his first two outings, but gave up four runs and 10 hits in five innings Saturday at St. Louis, leaving without a decision in Atlanta’s 7-6 win.
Hudson is 4-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 14 starts against Philadelphia since joining the Braves in 2005. Ryan Howard(notes) is hitting .323 with three homers against Hudson while Shane Victorino(notes) is batting .320 with two home runs.
Victorino left the Phillies’ win Thursday with a gastrointestinal illness, leaving his status for Friday uncertain. It seems Victorino has a better chance to play than Atlanta’s Chipper Jones(notes), who aggravated his left groin injury during a pinch-hit appearance Wednesday.
Jones, batting .133 since Aug. 16, hasn’t started since Saturday.