Chasing .500: Phillies 5 Braves 2

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies have taken the first two games of their three-game set against Atlanta, making a mediocre NL East even tighter. But instead of thinking division title, the Phils need to get to even first.

The Phillies broadcast team has been relatively decent so far this year. While not exciting, Matt Stairs and Jamie Moyer have certainly done nothing to embarrass themselves in the booth, and have sometimes provided keen insight, some wit, and good analysis to the game.

But it was something Moyer said during the Phils' 5-2 win over the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday night that was most prescient, and something both the Phillies and their fans should remember as the team draws closer to first place in the NL East.

You cannot start to focus on chasing teams before you're done chasing .500. Once you've chased down .500, you can worry about chasing teams. And the farther you get over .500, the less you'll have to worry about chasing teams, because you'll be passing them automatically.

This is wise advice, considering tonight's win over Atlanta merely pushed the Phils to seven games under .500, although they did move to within 5 games of the new NL East leaders, the Washington Nationals, and 4.5 behind the Braves. It's hard to take that deficit seriously when the team doing the chasing is still so far under water.

But as I mentioned earlier on Tuesday, the next 17 games (tonight's included) are a key test, as 13 of the next 17 will come against division rivals Atlanta and Miami. Everyone should have a much clearer idea in their heads of what the next steps should be after that, whether it's holding on with the hopes of contending, or starting to sell what moveable pieces there are.

Last night, the Phils did what they had to do to make life tough on Ruben Amaro, thanks in large part to starter Kyle Kendrick, who continued his mastery of the Braves, specifically in Atlanta. He went seven innings on Tuesday night and gave up two earned runs on six hits, with six strikeouts and one walk, lowering his season ERA to 3.97.

But it seems as though Kendrick saves his best stuff for Atlanta. In 103 career innings against the Braves, Kendrick is 8-2 with a career 3.23 ERA against them (including tonight's effort). And in 51 career innings in Atlanta, he's been even better, with a 2.47 ERA down south.

The offense gave Kendrick some early run support, led for the second straight night by a first inning opposite-field home run by Ryan Howard, his 13th of the year, this one a two-run shot that gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. In the top of the 4th, the Phillies scored their third run on a passed ball that scored Domonic Brown, and Cesar Hernandez followed with an RBI single that brought home Reid Brignac for the Phils' 4th run of the game. The Phils would add some insurance in the ninth, after the Braves scored single runs in the 5th and 7th innings, thanks to a bad hop RBI fielder's choice from Brown and two errors, TWO ERRORS, from all-world defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless 8th, and Jonathan Papelbon recovered from his 2nd blown save of the season last night to lock down the victory.

So while it is great the Phillies have won the first two games of their series here in Atlanta, and six out of their last eight overall, it must be tempered with some realism. The Phils still have the third-worst run differential in the National League, and they are still seven games under .500.

But the only way to scale Mt. .500 is to win baseball games. And it sure is better to be 5 games out than 8.5 out heading into the series finale on Wednesday.

Source: FanGraphs

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