Three games back of the Phillies in the National League East, the best thing the Braves have going for them is six remaining head-to-head meetings with the Phils, starting with a series that begins Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Two and a half games ahead of the Padres in the NL wild-card race, the biggest thing the Braves have going against them is that they play six of their final 12 games against the league's best team -- the Phillies.
"It is tougher," Chipper Jones said. "But I don't think we'd want it any other way."
One reason, of course, is that the Braves would like to think that they can still win the East. To win the East now, they need for the Phillies to lose. The best way to guarantee that the Phillies lose is to beat them yourself.
The other reason is that the Braves actually have a winning record against the Phillies over the last two years. They went 10-8 last season, and they're 7-5 so far this year.
"The one thing we have done really well the last couple of years is play well against the Phillies," Jones said. "And we're going to have to. They're the best team in the National League, and for some reason, we get sky-high to play them.
"To beat them, we need to play a near-perfect game."
But to make the playoffs, the Braves don't need to finish ahead of the Phillies. They just need to win the wild card -- although that might necessitate beating the Phillies a few times.
"Now we can't split hairs," club president John Schuerholz said. "Now it's about getting to the playoffs."
But still, Schuerholz said he doesn't mind it that half of the Braves' remaining schedule features the Phils (with other six games against the Nationals and Marlins).
"It might be the energy level we need," he said. "They will be energized games."
And they're leading off this week's edition of 3 to watch (which doesn't include the Rangers, Twins or Reds, even though all three could clinch their divisions in the next few days:
1. The Phillies were easily able to adjust their rotation, so that the Braves will face Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, maybe the closest thing we've seen to a true Big Three since the days of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. The Braves would have had a harder time making similar adjustments, and thus ace Tim Hudson won't pitch in this series. The Braves planned to start off with Jair Jurrjens, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park , but Jurrjens hurt his right knee in a bullpen session last Friday in New York. So 24-year-old Brandon Beachy, who was in Florida with the Braves' instructional league team, will get the start and make his major-league debut. Rookie Mike Minor and young Tommy Hanson are the other two Braves starters this week. The Phillies' Big Three would be lined up again to pitch in the final three regular-season games in Atlanta, although if the Phils have wrapped up the division by then, there's a chance they wouldn't all pitch.
2. Elsewhere on this site , I made what I thought was a reasoned but traditional case for Felix Hernandez as the American League's Cy Young leader. Hernandez could help his own case considerably with a big performance in Mariners at Blue Jays, Thursday afternoon (12:37 ET) at the Rogers Centre . The Jays have hit a major-league high 128 home runs in 69 home games (nearly two a game), and they average more than five runs a game at home. Hernandez hasn't faced the Blue Jays yet this year. Neither has CC Sabathia, who never lined up with any of the Yankees' first five series against the Jays (but figures to pitch in Toronto during the Yankees Sept. 27-29 visit).
3. First, Sabathia has a rematch with Tampa Bay's David Price, and if it's anything like their last game, it might be the 1 to watch this week. The first time around, a week ago in Florida, Sabathia and Price combined for 16 scoreless innings (eight apiece), while allowing just five hits (three of them off Price). They hook up again in Rays at Yankees, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium , and by the time it's over, we should have a better idea of who wins the American League East (and who's the AL wild card), and also of who is the leading threat to Hernandez's chance to win the Cy Young.