Braves-Phillies Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves appear in no danger of losing their sizable NL East lead, and only a collapse for the ages - one even bigger than their 2011 debacle - would prevent them from securing a second straight postseason berth.

None of that, not even the team's recent run of eight victories in 10 games, prevents manager Fredi Gonzalez from feeling dejected from time to time.

"It's funny, the game of baseball, you're as good as the last game you played," Gonzalez said.

He'll likely be in a much better mood if Atlanta can bounce back from a rare defeat while beginning its seven-game road trip with a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

The Braves (85-54) are up by 14 games over Washington in the East, and their first division title since 2005 seems inevitable. The size of the lead even seems to render their 2011 collapse irrelevant to their current situation.

Atlanta led the wild-card race by 10 1/2 games in late August of that year when its slide to eventual elimination from contention began, a lead that had been cut to 8 1/2 that Sept. 6.

They're coming off a 7-2 homestand, but Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the New York Mets left Gonzalez feeling a bit down as the team headed for Philadelphia.

"I've been on airplanes after going 9-1 and you just happened to lose that last game, and you feel terrible," Gonzalez said. "Same thing, we won two out of three (against the Mets), happened to lose the last one here and we feel terrible. But we've said our goal is to win series, and that's what we did. We won three of them (on the homestand)."

Atlanta also took two of three from the Phillies in their last series Aug. 12-14, and it has won five of the last six meetings. The Braves also got the best of Cliff Lee the last time they faced him, and he'll be on the mound again Friday.

Though Lee (11-6, 3.09 ERA) has gone 5-2 with a 1.73 ERA in his last eight starts against Atlanta, he allowed four runs - three earned - in five innings of a 4-1 loss Aug. 4.

The left-hander also didn't have his best stuff Saturday, tying his season high with three walks while allowing three runs - two earned - and nine hits in five innings of Philadelphia's 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

"He just seemed a little out of sync the whole start, throwing a lot of pitches, missing just off the plate,'' interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's a guy that usually pitches ahead in the count and goes after it and pounds the zone.''

The Phillies' 4.27 ERA ranks last in the NL, and the bullpen faltered Wednesday after Roy Halladay pitched six solid innings of a 3-2 loss to Washington.

Chase Utley had three hits and rookie Cesar Hernandez drove in both runs for the Phillies (63-77), losers of four of five. They'll face a Braves team that boasts a major league-best 3.19 ERA as Mike Minor takes the mound Friday.

Minor (13-5, 3.08) went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia in 2012, giving up two runs and two hits in six innings of an 8-2 win the last time he faced the Phillies on Sept. 22.

The left-hander, who has yet to pitch against Philadelphia this season, has gone 2-0 with a 5.16 ERA over his last four starts. He allowed four runs in seven innings of a 5-4, 11-inning win over Miami on Saturday.

Minor went 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his previous six outings for Atlanta, loser of four of six on the road.

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