The Philadelphia Phillies have owned the NL East the last two years, and they have an early lead again.
The Atlanta Braves hope a newcomer can help swing the division in their favor.
After rookie Jason Heyward’s(notes) walk-off hit led to their fourth win in five games, the Braves will try to carry the momentum into Tuesday’s opener of a three-game series against the visiting Phillies.
The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles through 2005, but Philadelphia (8-4) has become the team to beat in the East after back-to-back trips to the World Series, including their 2008 championship.
The Phillies are back at the top of the division thanks to a 7-1 start, but they’ve since lost three of four. They lead the majors with 78 runs but were held to one while losing its last two to Florida, getting blanked for the first time in Sunday’s 2-0 loss.
“There’s no concern right now,” slugger Ryan Howard(notes) told the Phillies’ official website after going hitless in the last two games. “It’s just baseball. There’s going to be hot streaks, I wouldn’t even call this a cold streak. We just ran into two guys who were on top of their game and we just kind of happened to cool off.”
They will face another starter who has been sharp Tuesday as Tommy Hanson(notes) (1-1, 2.38 ERA) tries to build on his first win. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up one run in six innings of a 6-1 victory at San Diego on Wednesday and already has 14 strikeouts in 11 1-3 innings.
“Hanson is a good young pitcher,” Padres manager Bud Black said. “He’s got a combo of the good velocity with the sharp breaking ball - pretty tough.”
Hanson, 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA against the Phillies as a rookie in 2009, has been overshadowed by the Braves’ other young phenom.
Heyward is already living up to lofty expectations, batting .302 with 15 RBIs in his first 12 major league games. He delivered in the clutch Sunday, ripping a sharp two-run single with two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning to give the Braves a 4-3 win over Colorado.
The Braves (7-5) hope he can spark an offense that was mediocre in 2009 as the team tries to return to the playoffs in manager Bobby Cox’s final season. Atlanta had totaled 21 runs while winning three straight before getting no-hit Saturday by Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez(notes).
The right-hander, whose time in Philadelphia’s rotation could be nearing an end as Joe Blanton(notes) works his way back from an oblique injury, gave up six runs in 1 2-3 innings Wednesday but was bailed out by his offense and bullpen in a 14-7 win.
“I was bad,” Kendrick said. “I fell behind hitters and wasn’t aggressive.”
Kendrick has been much better against the Braves, going 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA in seven career appearances.
He won in relief with four shutout innings during Philadelphia’s 9-4 victory at Turner Field on Sept. 18, but Atlanta was still the only NL East team to win the season series against the Phillies last year, going 10-8.