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SF@PHI: Blanton fans six over eight in no-decision

New contract extension and all, Cole Hamels has generated the most headlines among the Phillies' starting rotation. But as Philadelphia looks to make a last-stand charge into Wild Card contention in the National League, it could be the improved performance of Joe Blanton that brings the Phillies out of the deep hole they've dug in the NL East.

Blanton will take the mound for the Phillies in the second of a three-game set with the Braves in Atlanta. The Braves took the opener with a 6-1 win against Hamels on Friday.

Trailing the NL East-leading Nationals -- against whom they begin a three-game series on Tuesday -- by 14 1/2 games entering Saturday, the Phillies will send Blanton to the mound to build on two consecutive strong starts.

In the Phillies' 4-3 win over the Giants on Sunday, Blanton settled for a no-decision while throwing eight innings of three-run, seven-hit ball. Six days earlier, in a 3-2 win over the Dodgers, Blanton also lasted eight innings and allowed two runs on six hits while improving his record to 8-8.

Given the distance between themselves and the Nationals -- as well as the current Wild Card leaders, the Pirates and the Braves -- the Phillies are eager for steady performances in front of what has been a shaky bullpen.

"Where we're at right now, the bottom line is we definitely dug a hole for ourselves," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We cannot afford to lose series and things like that. Right now, we're gonna play Atlanta and then we're gonna go play Washington. In some ways, that's good because if we play good and we can take the series, we'll gain some ground."

The Braves, meanwhile, are striving to keep pace with the Nationals, who hold a four-game lead entering Saturday. Mike Minor, who has turned his season around while posting a 2.33 ERA and limiting opponents to a .182 batting average in his past three starts, will try to lead Atlanta to a fourth consecutive win.

After taking Friday night's game, the Braves improved to 5-2 against the Phillies this season. Following the conclusion of this weekend's series, the two teams will meet nine more times.

Phillies: Weekend series could influence Trade Deadline decisions
Though the Phillies already signed Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension on Wednesday, Manuel believes the team could still make headlines prior to Tuesday's Trade Deadline.

"I'm sure [the front office will] take a good look at our record and where we are in the standings," Manuel said. "I'm sure they will look at that before they make decisions on what they really want to do."

Braves: Quality starts keeping Atlanta atop Wild Card race
After Ben Sheets threw six innings of one-run, six-hit ball Friday night, the Braves have logged a quality start in seven of their last 10 games dating back to July 18.

Worth noting
• Friday night's loss snapped the Phillies' four-game winning streak, their third of the season. The Phillies had won each of those four games in their final at-bat. Comments