The Braves Are Coming

Before the 2003 season began, each of the meetings between the Phillies and Braves were heralded as "Battles for the division title". But since April, the Phils have slid and cannot seem to find a consistent offense, and this series between Atlanta and Philadelphia, at the Vet, has evolved from a playoff preview to a measuring stick of how Larry Bowa will handle certain situations.

In April the Braves looked dead. Greg Maddux was off to the worst start of his professional career, Tom Glavine was in New York, Kevin Millwood was wearing Phillies pinstripes, and the Braves were fourth in the National League East. The last two months are a different story. While Braves pitching is not what it once was, it is still a formidable staff and it includes perhaps the best closer in all of baseball: John Smoltz. Pitching has not been the Braves strongpoint this season, but it hasn't had to be. Atlanta's starters have propelled them to the top of the standings in all of Major League Baseball.

Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton is guiding his offense to the top of the charts, and unlike Greg Gross, his job is secure to say the least. Guys like Rafael Furcal, who is batting .309 with a .374 on base percentage along with eleven stolen bases are what makes this team so feared by opponents. Javy Lopez is having an all-star season. Lopez has been a rock behind the plate and is having one of the best hitting years of his career with a .301 average, 19 home runs and 38 RBI for the season.

Just how good are the braves? Well as of today they are 23 games above .500 and hold a commanding seven game lead on the Expos and a 10 game advantage over the Phillies. If the Phightins hope to make any dent in this deficite, a sweep of this series would be just what the doctor ordered.

Philadelphia has not swept a series since they brought out the brooms against Montreal in the first week of June. If Larry Bowa's club intends on giving Atlanta the boot this week they will need to come together as a team. It's not a secret that Bobby Abreu is discontented over hitting leadoff. He had an excellent series against the Reds from the one hole, but still has not taken a liking to the role and was quoted "I don't want to make this a permenant switch" when talking to Comcast Sportsnet. Bowa must decide what is more important, satisfying Abreu or jumpstarting this struggling lineup of his.

Pat Burrell just can't seem to dig his way out of this slump. The whispers are evolving into conversations about sending the left fielder to Scranton to find himself. Personally, I feel that a trip to the minors just may work wonders for Pat the Bat. The possibility of facing some lower class pitching and the chance to raise his confidence may just bring him out of this. The problem with that scenario is that Burrell is one of the top paid players on the Phillies roster and again the question is, should the decision be centered around the feelings of a star player, or in the interest of the team? Bowa will need to find these answers sooner rather then later if he hopes to resurrect this season.

Brett Myers will be on the hill in game one of this series, taking on Shane Reynolds. Myers has not gotten the support from his team this season and if the Phillies can knock around Reynolds in game one, Brett must be on top of his game to notch a victory for his club.

Prediction

This will not be easy, and if the Phillies hope to be the best in 2003, they must beat the best team in the decade. Philadelphia must get solid pitching for three games, Marlon Byrd needs to play the type of game he played against the Reds and in the hall of fame game and Jimmy Rollins must get on base, create some steals and rattle the cages of Braves pitchers. It's going to be tough to stop the Braves, and lets just hope that after this series the Phillies will end up with a new hitting coach…

The Braves will win two out of three at the Vet.


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