ATLANTA BRAVES (8-4)
at PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (6-6)
First pitch: Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Line: Atlanta -120, Philadelphia +110, Total: 8
The Braves attempt to stay atop the National League East when they open a six-game road trip against the Phillies on Monday night.
Atlanta was able to take the NL East championship last year with no problem and was impressive this past weekend with a three-game sweep at home against Washington. The wins put the Braves one game ahead of the Nationals in the divisional standings as they punctuated the sweep with a big 10-2 victory on Sunday afternoon. They received most of their runs through the means of the long-ball, with 7-of-10 of them coming from three home runs. One of the big flies came off the bat of OF Justin Upton, who has 11 hits over his past four games, four of which have left the park. Even though the Phillies are just 6-6, they are playing above expectations as most thought they would struggle with many of their stars getting up there in age. They hosted the Marlins over the weekend and secured their own sweep, with the final two victories coming by a single run. On Sunday, they defeated Miami 4-3, while getting plenty of help from 2B Chase Utley and his three hits; including a go-ahead solo homer in the eighth inning. Utley has been hot all season, recording a hit in each of the 10 games he has played while going an incredible 20-for-40 with three home runs and six doubles. This matchup will pin two veteran righties against each other as RHP Ervin Santana (1-0, 0.00 ERA) makes his second start for his new ballclub and RHP Roberto Hernandez (1-0, 4.35 ERA) will toe the rubber for Philadelphia. Over the previous two seasons, Atlanta has owned this series, going 23-14 against its rivals, including an 11-7 mark at home. The Braves have played equally as good both at home and on the road so far this year (4-2 both places), while the Phillies are an even 3-3 at home this season with all of their victories coming in their sweep of Miami. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Philly is just 60-77 (.438) when the total is between seven and 8.5 runs, while the Braves have compiled a poor 17-25 record (.405) when playing on the road with a money line of -100 to -150 since the start of last year.
Ervin Santana spent most of the offseason waiting for a huge multi-year contract, but when the season was nearly set to begin and he did not have a deal, he went to the Braves on a one-year agreement. The signing has already began paying dividends as he went out in his debut on Wednesday and picked up a win while allowing only three hits over eight scoreless innings, striking out six and walking nobody. Santana last faced the Phillies back in 2008, pitching a gem (7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 9 K’s) and earning a win. Since that time, though, he has started 169 games and with little experience against most of Philadelphia’s lineup, it is hard to predict how he will do. The one player that he has seen a lot has been OF Marlon Byrd, who is only 5-for-27 (.185) against Santana while striking out eight times, but also going deep for one of his hits. The big three (Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley) have combined to go 0-for-7 against the righty while fanning four times. Atlanta’s bullpen has pitched well so far on the season, going 33 innings while allowing 14 ER (3.82 ERA), and had not allowed a home run until the ninth inning of Sunday's game. Closer Craig Kimbrel (1.59 ERA, 5 saves) is arguably the top closer in the league, and has already been perfect in his first five save opportunities this year, striking out an incredible 12 batters in just 5.2 innings of work.
Roberto Hernandez has had an interesting career since the league discovered he was not actually Fausto Carmona and was also three years older than he claimed, but he has landed back on his feet while putting together 32 games (24 starts) for the Rays last year. He has done OK over his first two starts as a part of Philadelphia’s rotation, striking out an abnormally high 14 hitters in 10.1 frames while walking just two batters and allowing a home run in each of his starts. He has not pitched against the Braves since 2007, where he did earn the win, but just like in Santana’s case, a lot has happened since that victory. Spending most of his time in the AL, the only player Hernandez has had much time against is OF B.J. Upton, who is 3-for-12 against him with four strikeouts and three walks. The Braves offense as a whole has been heating up lately though, scoring at least four runs in each of their past five contests (6.2 runs per game) while hitting seven homers in their sweep of Washington this weekend. The relievers for Philadelphia have not performed well so far, pitching to a 4.35 ERA in 39.1 IP while getting a save in just two of their five chances. Part of the problem has been closer Jonathan Papelbon (6.23 ERA, 2 saves) who has gone 2-for-3 in save opportunities while allowing three runs and three walks in just 4.1 frames.