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News » Braves-Phillies Preview 2009-04-08


Braves-Phillies Preview 2009-04-08


Braves-Phillies Preview 2009-04-08
After three straight years without playoff baseball in Atlanta, the Braves were hoping to quickly reestablish themselves as contenders in the challenging NL East this season.

A three-game road sweep of the defending World Series champions wouldn't be a bad start.

Behind newcomer Javier Vazquez, the Braves will look to complete a sweep of Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon, immediately after the Phillies receive their World Series rings.

Finally in a rebuilding phase after reaching 14 straight postseasons from 1991-2005, the Braves lost 90 games last season for the first time since 1990, finishing as a fourth-place afterthought in the NL East.

But Atlanta (2-0) is hoping its strong start is a sign of a resurgence, as the team has received outstanding pitching in its first two games.

After Derek Lowe tossed eight shutout innings in his Braves debut, a 4-1 win over the Phillies on Sunday night, Jair Jurrjens and four relievers combined on a six-hitter in the team's 4-0 win Tuesday night.

Kelly Johnson homered on the game's first pitch, while Chipper Jones also hit his first home run of the year and added a double.

"We had excellent pitching," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "J.J. was really good. When he got in trouble, he pitched out of it."

Vazquez (12-16, 4.67 ERA in 2008) will try to equal his teammates' efforts in his own Atlanta debut after coming over from the Chicago White Sox in an offseason trade.

The veteran is coming off an erratic season in which he set a career high in losses, but he finished spring training with a 2.66 ERA after pitching four perfect innings against Detroit on Friday. Vazquez's best years came in the NL East with the Expos from 2001-03, when he had three of his four sub-4.00 ERA seasons.

"He looked just as I remember him when he was at Montreal," Cox said Friday. "I can't say enough good things about him."

Joe Blanton, Vazquez's opponent Wednesday, also found success in the division after the Phillies (0-2) acquired him from Oakland last July.

The big right-hander went 4-0 with a 4.20 ERA in 13 regular-season starts with Philadelphia, then was even better in the postseason, with a 2-0 record and a 3.18 ERA in three starts. He won Game 4 of the World Series.

But if Blanton is going to earn another victory, he'll need at least some run support - something the Phillies haven't been able to provide this week. After the raising of their World Series flag on Sunday, there could be another distraction in store Wednesday as they receive their championship rings before the game.

Their offensive woes have begun with the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-9, while Shane Victorino, the No. 2 hitter after a lineup shuffle Tuesday, is 0-for-7. The team stranded 11 runners Tuesday.

"You take the positive of getting guys on," Phillies slugger Ryan Howard said. "We just have to take our time, stay loose and get those runners in."

This series is hardly the first time the Phillies have struggled to open a season well, as they are now 0-2 for the fourth straight year. Atlanta was responsible for their slow start in 2007, when the Braves swept three games in Philadelphia to start the campaign.

Last year, however, the Phillies dominated Atlanta. It took the Braves 17 meetings to earn three wins against Philadelphia in 2008, a total they could match with a win Wednesday.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 8, 2009

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