Phillies-Braves Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated May 01, 2012
The last time Philadelphia and Atlanta met, the Phillies left the field victorious and ready to begin the playoffs. The Braves walked off stunned that they would be missing the postseason after holding a seemingly insurmountable wild-card lead just weeks earlier. Atlanta and Philadelphia open a three-game series Tuesday night at Turner Field, the site where the Phillies eliminated the Braves from playoff contention on the final day of the 2011 regular season. Had Atlanta managed to win just one of its six games against Philadelphia last September, it would have forced a one-game playoff with St. Louis for the NL wild card. The Braves, however, dropped all six meetings - part of their 9-18 September collapse - including a season-ending sweep at Turner Field. Philadelphia limited Atlanta to 11 runs in the six September meetings, while Hunter Pence hit .364 with seven RBIs. Atlanta's late-season struggles carried into 2012, as the Braves (14-9) opened 0-4, but they've won 14 of 19 since to pull within one-half game of NL East-leading Washington. They enter this series, however, coming off a four-game split at home against Pittsburgh. The Phillies (11-12) are also coming off an uninspiring four-game split with a lesser opponent, the Chicago Cubs. "We're close," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said after Monday's 6-4 win. "Our pitching is there. We have to improve our defense mentally and our timely hitting.'' Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.73 ERA) was the lone starter in Philadelphia's rotation not to take the ball versus the Cubs, but starting him in the opener against the Braves could work to the Phillies' advantage. Hamels has compiled a 2.14 ERA in winning his last three starts, and is looking to win four in a row for the first time since a career-best five start streak Aug. 29-Sept. 20, 2010. The left-hander retired 18 consecutive batters at one point during Wednesday's 7-2 victory over Arizona, and ended up allowing two runs and four hits in eight innings. Hamels also has a strong track record in the month of May. Since his rookie season in 2006, Hamels' .810 winning percentage in May leads all pitchers with at least 20 decisions. He is 17-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 30 May starts, and is 5-1 with a 3.69 ERA in seven outings versus Atlanta during that month. Hamels typically fares well against the Braves regardless of what the calendar says, as his 11 wins over Atlanta since 2007 are his most against any opponent. He went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in four starts against the Braves last season. Shane Victorino batted .377 with 11 runs against Atlanta in 2011, while Carlos Ruiz hit .304 with nine RBIs. Ruiz arrives in Atlanta batting .467 with six RBIs during a four-game hitting streak, and is 5 for 8 with a homer and two doubles against scheduled Braves starter Brandon Beachy (2-1, 1.05). Beachy gave up two runs, seven hits and a walk while striking out six in 6 1-3 innings of Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn't receive a decision. It marked the first time he gave up more than one earned run all season, causing his ERA to more than double from 0.47. The Braves have lost all six of Beachy's starts against the Phillies, with the right-hander posting a 3.94 ERA. Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward could return to the lineup Tuesday after missing Monday's 9-3 loss to the Pirates with soreness around his right oblique muscle. Heyward is 3 for 13 lifetime against Hamels, while second baseman Dan Uggla is batting .160 with 15 strikeouts in 50 at-bats against the Philadelphia southpaw.
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