All of the momentum that the Atlanta Braves had built over the past two weeks seemed to come to a screeching halt last night. Their arch-rival and arch-nemesis, the Philadelphia Phillies came into town with a losing record and a punchless offense. The Braves were flirting with first place and seemed to have the swagger to take advantage of the Phillies when they were struggling.
At the end of the night, the Phillies were victorious and the Braves were left licking their wounds and talking about missed opportunities. When it was all said and done, the game followed a script that has become the norm between the Braves and the Phillies.
The Phillies took advantage of the opportunities they had when they needed them. The Braves had numerous opportunities, but could not break through. Last night was no different. The two biggest hits of the game came from Hunter Pence. He hit a two-out “double” in the 4th inning against Brandon Beachy, which was a slow rolling grounder through the Braves’ defensive alignment coupled with Matt Diaz slowly going after the ball. He scored on the next play. He hit another ball through the right side to score the Phillies’ fourth run and put the game away. Neither was hit hard; both were hit to the right place and very effective.
When it was crunch time, the Phillies got to Jonny Venters, who had been ridiculously good this year. The Phillies have enjoyed a lot of success against Venters in his career. Venters has a 4.03 ERA and a .270 BAA against the Phillies, the third highest among NL teams. He also has a .353 BABIP against the Phillies, the fourth highest. The correlation between Venters’ struggles against the Phillies are evident with looking at his K rate. The teams that put the ball in play and do not strike out against him are the teams that have given him the most trouble. The Phillies have a K/9 rate of 8.5, which is the fourth lowest against NL teams.
In many ways, the struggles of Venters against the Phillies are parallel to the struggles that the Braves have had against the Phillies as a whole. The Braves have lost eight consecutive games against the Phillies dating back to last season. They went 6-12 against them last year and are 7-18 since September of 2010.
In order for the Atlanta Braves to win the division, they will have to beat the Phillies. The road to the playoffs in the NL East goes through Philadelphia, until a team in the NL East changes that. Brandon Beachy put it in perspective before the season started when asked if the Phillies were still the team to beat:
“Yeah, they’ve won it what, five years in a row now, something like that?” he said. “So until someone knocks them off, they’re the defending champs in this division and the first and foremost team we have to beat.”
The Braves are still searching for a way to beat this team, “first and foremost.”