While the Phillies have wrapped up their fourth consecutive division title, the wild-card leading Braves hope to join them in the postseason - possibly as early as Friday night after the opener of manager Bobby Cox’s final regular-season series.
Atlanta (90-69) and Philadelphia were tied for the East lead Sept. 11, making it seem very possible the division title would be decided in this final head-to-head series.
Instead, the Phillies (95-64) took control of the division with 11 straight victories, eventually securing the East crown with an 8-0 win at Washington on Monday. They’ll have home-field advantage as long as they remain in the postseason.
The Braves have an excellent shot at giving the East a second playoff representative for the first time since 2003. Atlanta trailed San Diego by a half-game in the wild-card race heading into a three-game set against Florida on Monday, but is now in the driver’s seat after finishing a sweep with Wednesday’s 5-1 victory.
With NL West-leading San Francisco hosting the Padres this weekend, the Braves know exactly what they need against the Phillies to trump whichever team fails to win that division.
However, the Braves might only need one victory. They’ll wrap up the wild card if they win Friday and the Padres lose later in the night.
Atlanta should be particularly fired up for Cox, who will be honored Saturday in advance of his retirement after 29 years managing - 21 with the Braves.
After winning 14 straight division titles, Atlanta has missed out on the postseason the past four years. Cox is concerned about ending that drought rather than his retirement plans.
“These games are so important I’m going to put that on the back burner,” Cox said.
The Braves will look for their first victory with a pitcher who has never won in the majors. Brandon Beachy(notes) (0-1, 2.89 ERA) is making a third straight start in place of Jair Jurrjens(notes) (sore knee), and the right-hander has shown promise in the first two.
Beachy struck out nine over five innings Sunday at Washington but walked three - two came around to score - and left without a decision in a 4-2 loss.
It was an improvement from when he allowed three runs - one earned - over 4 1-3 innings in his debut, a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia on Sept. 20.
Chase Utley(notes) and Ryan Howard(notes) each had a hit off Beachy in that game, though both sluggers sat out Wednesday against the Nationals as Ben Francisco(notes) hit two homers to spark a 7-1 win.
Manager Charlie Manuel plans to get his All-Stars back in the lineup at least a bit over the weekend in preparation for the team’s playoff opener Wednesday.
“How much, I don’t know yet, but I might play them the biggest part of the games there,” Manuel said. “We’re going to play some front-line players there.”
The right-hander is headed for the bullpen in the division series, when Philadelphia will only need three starters. He’s 1-3 with a 5.06 ERA in September after giving up four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday.
Against the Braves, though, Kendrick has been dominant. He’s 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA in nine career games, including an 0.72 ERA in his last four appearances.