Fading Braves

With their most recent losing streak behind them, the Philadelphia Phillies are feeling good about their chances of winning an NL East title.

They'll try again to inch closer to first place on Wednesday when they wrap up a three-game series with the stumbling Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Philadelphia (73-65) won for the first time in four games on Tuesday, beating Atlanta 5-2. With the win, the Phillies remained five games behind the division-leading New York Mets and three games back of Arizona for the NL wild card lead.

First baseman Ryan Howard, who hit his 37th homer and fourth this season in Atlanta, said an NL East title is within the team's sights.

"Definitely," he said. "It's been a crazy year for us. We are hanging with it."

The Phillies have won seven of their last 10 games against the Braves (70-69), including a three-game sweep in the teams' last meeting at Turner Field from May 25-27. Atlanta, which was swept in three games by the Mets over the weekend, fell 8 1/2 games out of first place.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Atlanta -163 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on Atlanta -163 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

"In August and September, that's when you get that proverbial hump you have to get over," Howard said. "We have to take care of our own business first and then see what happens with everybody else."

The Braves' frustration appear to be boiling over as their playoff hopes fade. Third baseman Chipper Jones, who also homered Tuesday, vented about the umpiring after the game.

"It's a joke," he said. "I'm tired of it. And baseball can fine me whatever they want. I do not care. Somebody's got to say something. I've got more walks than strikeouts in my career - I know what a strike looks like."

Manager Bobby Cox was concerned about his offense, which has managed just six runs in its last four losses. The Braves have dropped 10 of their last 14.

"We really have to start capitalizing with some men on base," Cox said. "We just didn't do it."

The Braves will have one of their aces on the mound Wednesday in Tim Hudson (15-7, 3.32 ERA). Hudson and John Smoltz are a combined 27-14, but the rest of Atlanta's starters are 23-36.

However, Hudson is looking to avoid losing three straight starts for the first time this season. He had gone 9-0 in his previous 11 starts before losing at St. Louis on Aug. 25 and against the Mets on Friday.

Hudson gave up four runs in six innings in the 7-1 loss to the Mets and allowed two homers - just the sixth and seventh he has yielded all season. He is 4-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies, including 0-1 with a 3.32 ERA in three outings in 2007.

Howard is 7-for-24 (.292) with three homers lifetime against Hudson.

The Phillies counter with Kyle Kendrick (8-3, 3.79), who is trying to win his fourth straight start. The rookie right-hander gave up two runs in seven innings of Friday's 9-2 win at Florida.

Kendrick, who is 6-0 at home, improved to 2-3 with a 4.62 ERA in his sixth road start and became the first NL rookie to win eight games.

"Same old Kendrick," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He kept his poise and battled them. He's a pitcher. He doesn't strike a lot of guys out but he knows how to pitch and he doesn't give in."

Kendrick, who started the season at Double-A Reading, is making his first appearance against the Braves.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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