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Playoff Pursuit

The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are both playing well against NL East opponents, but they're still chasing the division-leading New York Mets.

Only one team will be able to improve its division standing as the Braves and Phillies open a three-game series on Friday at Citizens Bank Park.

Atlanta (61-54) trails New York by 3 1/2 games and Philadelphia (60-54) is four games back. Both squads are also in the wild-card hunt with the Braves trailing the first-place San Diego Padres by one-half game and the Phillies one game behind.

Atlanta is 25-20 against NL East opponents - the best mark in the division - and Philadelphia is 20-20. The Braves have won seven of their last nine games against division foes and three straight series, while the Phillies are 4-2 in their last six NL East contests, winning both series.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Philadelphia -148 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 9 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta +133 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

The Braves took two of three games from the Mets, including a 7-6 win on Thursday. Chipper Jones hit a three-run homer that was estimated at 470 feet, Mark Teixeira added a solo shot and Willie Harris made a leaping catch at the left-field fence to rob Carlos Delgado of a homer and preserve the win.

The Braves improved to 7-3 in their last 10 overall games, averaging 8.0 runs and batting .344 during that stretch.

"We just have to aim to keep taking two of three the rest of the way and we'll be in good shape," manager Bobby Cox told the Braves' official Web site.

The Phillies had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 4-2 defeat to the Florida Marlins on Thursday, but still won the series. Greg Dobbs had a tying, two-run double in the sixth for Philadelphia, which lost for just the third time in its last 13 home games.

The Phillies have won six of Cole Hamels' last seven home starts and hope for a similar result when he takes the mound Friday. The left-hander is trying to bounce back from a disappointing no-decision in Saturday's 6-5 defeat in Milwaukee.

He held the Brewers to two hits - including a solo homer - through the first five innings, before giving up three runs in the sixth. Hamels (12-5, 3.57) allowed four runs and seven hits over seven innings and left with a one-run lead, but the bullpen couldn't hold on. He didn't issue a walk and struck out five, throwing 68 of his 89 pitches for strikes.

A frustrated Hamels didn't speak to reporters after the game.

"Cole pitched great. He deserved to win, and our team deserved to win,'' said Phillies' reliever Tom Gordon, who took the loss. "Tough game.''

Hamels is 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA in five career starts versus the Braves, going 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in three starts this season. The Phillies swept the last series between these teams May 25-27, but the Braves have won four consecutive games in Philadelphia.

Chuck James (9-8, 3.84 ERA) tries to remain unbeaten versus the Phillies when he takes the ball for Atlanta. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in five career games, including four starts, against them.

The Braves have won their last three games versus Philadelphia when James is on the mound. He is coming off a no-decision in Sunday's 6-5, 10-inning win over Colorado when he gave up four runs and six hits, including two homers, over five-plus innings.

James is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA over his last seven starts. He may have to face utility player Russell Branyan, whom the Phillies acquired from Cleveland for cash on Thursday. In parts of 10 seasons in the majors, Branyan has a career average of .229 with 118 homers and 293 RBIs in 688 games.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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