The Phillies have a few streaks of their own to thank for their current position.
Philadelphia tries to win a seventh consecutive game for the third time this season Saturday night at Turner Field, where the Braves need to bounce back quickly to keep their own postseason hopes alive.
Atlanta (78-69) had put together its longest winning streak in more than three years as the Phillies came to town Friday, pulling within 4 1/2 games of wild card-leading Colorado.
The Braves’ streak was built on a lineup that averaged 6.4 runs, but Friday was Philadelphia’s turn to break out offensively. The Phillies (86-60) hit four home runs - including Ryan Howard’s(notes) 39th and 40th of the season - in a 9-4 win that reduced their magic number to clinch a third straight NL East crown to eight.
“We know what we’re doing with him, but he seems to get us almost every series,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Howard, who’s hitting .480 with seven homers in his last seven games against Atlanta. “We make mistakes.”
Pitching has been the key to Philadelphia’s current six-game run. The Phillies have allowed 11 runs during the winning streak, and their starters have a 0.87 ERA.
Pedro Martinez(notes) (5-0, 2.87 ERA) will get the ball Saturday looking to match Philadelphia’s second-longest streak of the season. The Phillies won seven in a row from May 29-June 4, then topped that by recording 10 straight victories from July 8-21 - five apiece before and after the All-Star break.
Martinez signed with Philadelphia the day after the All-Star break, and while he hasn’t been the dominant pitcher he was in winning three Cy Young Awards from 1997-2000, he’s been pretty sharp for a 37-year-old who hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2005.
He’s lasted at least 6 2-3 innings in winning his past three starts, most recently shutting down the New York Mets on six hits over eight innings - striking out seven - in a 1-0 win Sunday.
“I’m enjoying every single pitch I get in baseball from now on,” Martinez told the Phillies’ official Web site. “… I feel like probably (back in) ’98, ’99, 2000 maybe. Because I’m bouncing back good.”
Martinez is 3-3 with a 5.15 ERA in his last six starts at Turner Field, and he’s had fantastic success against three of Atlanta’s best hitters. Chipper Jones(notes), Brian McCann(notes) and Adam LaRoche(notes) are hitting a combined .176 off Martinez, with only Yunel Escobar(notes) (3 for 4, one homer) enjoying any success.
Escobar, however, may have something besides Martinez on his mind. Cox pulled Escobar from Friday’s loss after the shortstop failed to run out a grounder, the second mid-game benching Cox has given him this season.
“I never do that unless you have to,” Cox said. “He just has lapses where I think he forgets.”
Javier Vazquez(notes) (13-9, 3.01) will take the mound for the Braves hoping to build off a pair of outstanding starts. Vazquez didn’t allow a run over seven innings in a 2-1 win at Houston on Sept. 8, then didn’t allow a run until the ninth in a 9-2 complete game Sunday at St. Louis.
“It’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen pitched through eight innings,” Cox said. “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get the shutout, the way that he pitched.”
Vazquez, who’s 4-7 with a 3.06 ERA at home, is 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia this season. Howard is 5 for 13 (.385) with three career homers against Vazquez.