The Atlanta Braves' inability to beat the Philadelphia Phillies contributed to their late collapse last year.
The Braves appear poised for a different ending to this campaign and look to extend their recent dominance over the Phillies on Monday night with help from right-hander Ben Sheets.
Atlanta failed to capture a second straight playoff berth in 2011 because of an 8-18 finish that included six losses to Philadelphia, including three to close out the season at Turner Field.
This time, the Braves (62-46) will face the Phillies while contending for one of the NL's two wild-card berths and trailing Washington by three games in the NL East. Atlanta also has won 10 of 12 after a 6-1 victory over Houston on Sunday.
Atlanta will try to add to that stretch by building on a six-game win streak against Philadelphia (49-59). The Braves earned the first three of those wins at Citizens Bank from July 6-8.
Sheets (3-1, 1.46 ERA) got Atlanta started on a three-game home sweep of the Phillies by allowing one run and six hits over six innings during a 6-1 victory July 27, his third in a row. A poor first inning kept him from building on that win streak Wednesday, and the right-hander took the loss in a 4-2 defeat to Miami.
Sheets gave up three of those four runs in the opening frame. He also allowed a season-high 11 hits but did have a season-best eight strikeouts over 6 2-3 innings.
It also marked the first time the right-hander, who is coming off a second Tommy John surgery, had gone past the sixth inning of a game and surpassed 100 pitches since July 19, 2010.
"I think for him, going out there in the seventh was a big plus," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's website. "I think sitting down for seven innings and going out and getting over the 100-pitch mark was a good step forward."
Sheets will try to bounce back with another strong start against Philadelphia, which has won four of six since its series in Atlanta near the end of last month.
Ryan Howard, batting .208 since being activated from the disabled list July 6, hit a walkoff single in a 5-4 victory over Arizona on Sunday. The Phillies slugger is 3 for 19 (.158) with 10 strikeouts in his five games against Atlanta this season.
"It's just been a timing issue,'' Howard said of his recent struggles. "I've been kind of in between, start too late, start too early. I've got to find the happy place."
Vance Worley (6-6, 3.63) was probably in that place following a 3-2 win in Washington on Wednesday. The right-hander gave up two unearned runs, six hits and one walk over seven innings for his third victory in 11 starts.
"There's still season left and we've got to go out and play," Worley told the team's website. "Nothing really changes. The goal is still the same."
Worley did not get a decision in his only start against the Braves this season, a 4-3 loss July 8 in Philadelphia. He gave up three runs over six innings during that game, and is 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA in three career starts versus Atlanta.
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Ben Sheets