09/20/10 3:30 PM ET
Braves confident heading into Philadelphia
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"It's a playoff atmosphere every game we play now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "This seemed like playoff atmosphere in my stomach."
Cox's comments came Sunday after his club claimed a much-needed series sweep of the Mets. When he arrives at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, he and his players will experience a scene even more frenzied than the electric ones they've so often encountered when they've visited Philadelphia.
For so many years, the Braves were loathed in Philadelphia because they were the club that was annually winning the National League East crown. Now that they stand as the only club that could deny the Phillies a fourth consecutive division title, the Braves will enter the City of Brotherly Love and likely draw even greater hate.
"We know what we're getting ourselves into," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "We've all been there. We've all played in front of the crowds. They're going to be cheering from pitch one. We've got to be ready, and I think we will be.
"This is what you play for. You play the game for these moments. This is what you train hard for in the offseason. Going to Spring Training and all the hours you put into baseball is to play in a playoff-type atmosphere and to make it to the postseason."
The Braves don't necessarily have to win the division to gain entry into the postseason. They will enter this series with a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Wild Card race. But if they're going to maintain this advantage and stave off the contestants from the NL West, they're going to have to spend the first couple days of this week finding success against the NL's best.
"It's a big series," Braves first baseman Derrek Lee said. "Obviously they have great pitching and they have a great offense. But I like our team, too. So I think it's going to be a good series. We'll see what happens."
Despite losing four of the first games in this season series, the Braves have won seven of the 12 games played against the Phillies this year. But the two teams have assumed new appearances since they last met just before the All-Star break.
Lee has replaced Jones in the middle of the Braves' lineup and the nearly healthy Phillies have since bolstered their rotation with the addition of Roy Oswalt, who will introduce himself to this rivalry during Wednesday night's series finale.
With Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Oswalt, the Phillies will send a pair of former 20-game winners and a World Series MVP to the mound to face Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson, who have combined for 24 wins and 59 career starts in their young careers.
Beachy, a 24-year-old with seven Triple-A starts on his resume, was a late replacement for Jair Jurrjens, who has a sore right knee. Beachy will be making his Major League debut.
Jurrjens tweaked his knee during a bullpen session Friday night, but didn't inform the Braves of the discomfort until Saturday.
"They're the three best they have and we have some great pitchers as well," McCann said before Jurrjens was scratched. "It's going to be a battle, and we're excited."
There was little reason for the Braves to be excited when they entered this nine-game road trip with just five wins in their previous 14 games. But when their bus left New York on Sunday evening and began traveling toward Philadelphia, they were carrying the momentum created by a three-game series sweep of the Mets.
"You couldn't ask for anything more," Braves right-hander Derek Lowe said. "We did everything that we needed to do. We know they've lined up their rotation to give us their three best. It should be a lot of fun."
When the Braves exited Philadelphia on May 9, they were five games below .500 and staring at despair. Three weeks later, they began a three-game sweep of the Phillies with a Memorial Day victory that gave them sole possession of first place in the division standings.
The Braves would spend 99 days at the top of the NL East standings before allowing the Phillies to regain the top spot on Sept. 7.
With six of their final 12 games scheduled against the Phillies, the Braves certainly have a chance to win the division. But with Sunday's comeback win over the Nationals capping their own series sweep, the Phillies enter this week's series with a sense of confidence from winning seven straight and 11 of their past 12 games.
"Obviously we'd like to go in and make up some ground," Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. "They're playing unbelievable. But we feel like we can string together some good baseball. We tend to do OK there. It's a very exciting and intense place to play. But for us, I don't think we've ever gone there and felt intimidated."
The Phillies' lineup is loaded with many of the key players who have helped them reach the past two World Series. Midseason acquisitions account for the only two members of the Braves' starting lineup who have played in a Fall Classic.
But while standing with Tim Hudson as the only active players who were part of the Braves' last postseason team in 2005, McCann believes that Jason Heyward and his other young teammates will go into Philadelphia and ignore the intimidation created by the atmosphere and the team they're opposing.
"I don't think any of us are looking at it as 'Oh my God, we've never been here before,'" McCann said. "I got to play in the playoffs when I was 21. I can't imagine it being any more nerve-wracking than it was then. There's a lot of young guys in here. But we all expect to be here. We all expect to produce at this level. I don't think anything is going to take us away from that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.