With the cushions they’ve built, it’s only a matter of time before the Philadelphia Phillies clinch a playoff spot, the NL East crown and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Not that they’ve been taking it any easier on the Atlanta Braves.
The Phillies have outscored the Braves 15-3 in the first two games this week against their closest intradivision competition, and they can get another step closer to clinching the East by handing Atlanta its first three-game sweep of 2011 on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Philadelphia (90-48) came into this series with a healthy 7 1/2-game lead on Atlanta, but the Braves still conceivably had a chance to catch the Phillies with these three games and a series at Turner Field to close the regular season.
Atlanta (82-59) probably needed a sweep to make that second series meaningful, but it’s Philadelphia that’s in position to pull it off. The Phillies cruised to a 9-0 win behind Cliff Lee’s(notes) brilliance in Monday’s opener, then rode three hits and three RBIs from Raul Ibanez(notes) to a 6-3 victory Tuesday, pushing their lead over the Braves to 9 1/2 games.
Philadelphia reduced its magic numbers to six for a playoff spot and 14 to clinch a fifth straight NL East title.
Atlanta still has a 7 1/2-game lead for the NL wild card over both San Francisco and St. Louis, but a loss Wednesday would represent a first. The Braves haven’t been swept in a three-game series this year, though Arizona took a two-game set from Atlanta in mid-May.
The Braves were last swept in three games Sept. 20-22 at Citizens Bank Park.
Brandon Beachy(notes) (7-2, 3.37 ERA) will try to prevent it from happening again, but there’s perhaps no opponent he’d less like to face than the Phillies. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts versus Philadelphia and 7-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 19 starts against anyone else.
Beachy is 4-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his last eight outings, and though he didn’t get a win Friday, he turned in his sixth quality start in that stretch by holding the Dodgers to three runs and four hits over six innings before the bullpen let a lead slip away in an 8-6 loss.
“I wasn’t as sharp as usual,” he said. “That happens. I just need to be a little bit better. I was just missing at times, just throwing balls when there was no reason to.”
Roy Oswalt(notes) (7-8, 3.80) counters for the Phillies looking to win for the fourth time in five starts after posting just one victory in his previous 10 outings. The righty gave up three runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings Friday at Florida, striking out seven in a 5-3 victory.
“I threw a lot of pitches early and really didn’t find my mechanics until the fourth inning,” Oswalt said. “I battled the first three innings just trying to get the ball where I wanted it.”
Oswalt is 1-3 with a 5.56 ERA - his highest against any opponent - in 10 career outings against Atlanta.