PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves came here last September, they trailed the Phillies by three games. When they showed up this week, they were 7 1/2 games back.
That's fine, but when the Braves came here last September, they looked like no match for the Phillies, either in the division race or in a potential playoff series. They came here this week looking -- and feeling -- like a team with a chance, if the teams end up meeting in the National League Championship Series.
"I think we match up with these guys better than we ever have," pitcher Tim Hudson said Monday, and you can be sure that even a 9-0 loss to Cliff Lee didn't change his mind.
The Braves acknowledge that the Phillies are the National League's best team. They acknowledge that they'd need to be at their best to win, even in a short series.
"You've got to play a perfect game against the Phillies," Chipper Jones said. "But we know we have a chance."
They also know that it's no guarantee they'll ever see the Phillies in October. Both teams would need to advance through the first round, and as of now the Braves are looking at a tricky first-round series against the Brewers.
But the point isn't that the Braves should be considered the favorite in the NL playoffs. The point is that unlike last year, when the Braves stumbled into the playoffs undermanned, this year a Braves-Phillies NLCS would seem to be worth watching.
The Braves know that they're the only team in baseball that owns wins this year over each of the Phillies' Big 3 starting pitchers -- Roy Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels.
Against the Braves, the Phillies are just 5-5 with Halladay, Lee or Hamels on the mound (including Monday's win). Against everyone else in baseball, they were 52-21 with one of those three starting.
"Look, those three are as good as it gets," Jones said. "We know it. Everyone else knows it. But when you see them as much as we have, we've made some adjustments."
Adjustments or not, the Braves are a different team than the one the Phillies completely outclassed last September. That's true even with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens on the disabled list, although obviously the Braves' chances improve if either or both returns in time for the playoffs.
Without Hanson and Jurrjens, the Braves would have a postseason rotation of two veterans -- Hudson and Derek Lowe -- and two rookies -- Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.
"We feel like we'd be in pretty good shape," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
A year ago, they weren't. Jones was hurt and missed the playoffs. Martin Prado was also hurt, which is why Brooks Conrad had to play (and committed the key errors that helped knock the Braves out of the playoffs against the Giants). Jurrjens was hurt. Billy Wagner was hurt.
"We were a shell of the team we had been in August," Wren said.
They looked like no match at all for the Phillies, no matter what the standings said in mid-September.
They look like an underdog this year, but one with a shot.
"We feel like we're very competitive," Wren said. "I think [the Phillies] are the best team in the NL, but we feel like every time we play them, we can win.
"I don't think there's much separation between the two teams."
I'm not sure I'd go that far. The Phillies clearly look like the best team in the league, and maybe in all of baseball, just as they did entering the playoffs last year.
But last year, I'd have given the Braves no chance. This year, I'd say, they've got a shot.