Manuel won't make it easy for Braves
ATLANTA -- Baseball's integrity endured a stern test on Friday night, proving once again that there's very little wiggle room when it comes to the game's credibility.
Manager Charlie Manuel and the Philadelphia Phillies made sure of that.
The notion that the Braves, who are trying to secure the National League Wild Card berth, might have an easy time against a less-than-best Phillies team was put to rest at chilly Turner Field.
The Phillies hammered the Braves, 11-5.
The Braves' magic number to clinch a playoff perch is two courtesy of their loss to the Phils and the Padres' 6-4 win over the Giants in San Francisco.
Skeptics wondered before the first of three season-ending games this weekend if the Phillies would put their best foot forward after clinching their fourth straight NL East title on Monday night. In Manuel's perfect world, they would use their remaining games to rest their regulars and let overworked pitchers recharge their batters.
But with Atlanta leading the Wild Card race over San Diego and needing at least two victories to wrap up a trip to the postseason, Philadelphia found itself in a difficult predicament.
"No, really," said Manuel. "I always think you should put a team on the field that can win, and your goal should always be to win that game on that day. Spring Training games are a little bit different because you're looking at players."
He added that when a team is still in the running -- in this case the Braves -- "you should do everything you can to beat them."
Manuel said it is important to him that Padres manager Bud Black will be able to say the Phillies tried their best for his (Black's) team.
"I want him to say that we put a competitive team on the field against the Braves," said Manuel. "There's a fine line between resting players and keeping them sharp."
Of the Phillies' regulars, only center fielder Shane Victorino and ailing third baseman Placido Polanco did not start on Friday night.
Kyle Kendrick, fifth in the rotation, took his normal start and earned his 11th victory thanks to a five-run outburst in the sixth inning that was highlighted by Jimmy Rollins' third career grand slam.
The Phillies will open their defense of the NL pennant when the best-of-five Division Series opens Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.
Roy Halladay, a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, will not start this weekend against the Braves, nor will Roy Oswalt.
But I don't think anyone, Black included, expected Manuel to pitch Halladay, who has thrown more innings (250 2/3) than any other NL pitcher.
On Saturday, rookie Vance Worley will start against the Braves' Tommy Hanson.
The one thing a team that has clinched a playoff berth doesn't want to do is be drained when the playoffs open.
Legendary Braves manager Bobby Cox, who'll be honored during a ceremony prior to the game, which will be televised on FOX, has taken Atlanta teams to the postseason 14 times.
He says there were years when the Braves clinched early, and times when they went down to the wire. He added that there's a fine line when you've clinched and you're playing a team still in contention.
"Charlie Manuel's doing the right thing," Cox said. "He's got to get his team ready for the playoffs. If we haven't made it before now, shame on us. He has to do all the preparation work to get his team exactly where he wants it.
"They started Kendrick tonight, and I think Cole Hamels is going to pitch a couple of innings on Sunday. Charlie's got to do that to tune them up. Whatever it takes, he's got to have his team prepared just right. We've got to play our game and not worry about what Charlie's doing with his team. He's doing the right thing."
Thirty minutes after Friday night's jarring setback, watched by a crowd of 51,139, Cox -- already dressed in street clothes and sitting behind his desk -- said, "We just have to win a game tomorrow. That's where we are."
The Phillies swept the Braves last week in a crucial three-game series in Philadelphia and now are doing everything they can to keep them from securing the Wild Card.
"We led our division for almost three and a half months," Cox said. "Philly got very strong and moved ahead. They were hard to catch, but we knew there are always two races -- the Wild Card and the division. The Wild Card is what we're trying for now. I told our players from Day 1, it doesn't make any difference how we get there. Our priority is always the division title, but you can have success as a Wild Card."
Because Cox is being honored on Saturday, it would be fitting if the Braves could clinch a playoff berth on the same day.
"My career is winding down, and I'm excited about it, to be honest with you," Cox told me. "We're on the verge of making the playoffs if we can win a couple more games here [or if the Padres lose].
"It will be a thrill of my life if we can get back into the playoffs and have a crack at winning another World Series."
Pausing, he added: "It would be a good way to leave after 51 years."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.