Catching the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East title remains a goal for the Atlanta Braves. Just maintaining their nice lead in the NL Wild Card standings and staying healthy the next four weeks is probably at the forefront of manager Fredi Gonzalez's mind, however.
Gonzalez and the Braves begin a difficult week on the road Monday night when they open a 3-game set in Philadelphia. Atlanta will travel to three cities and play eight games over the next seven days, a doubleheader makeup against the Mets on Thursday in the middle of 3-game sets at the Phillies and Cardinals.
Weather could be a factor the first four days of the journey with the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee bringing good rain chances in Philadelphia and New York. Monday's opener at Citizens Bank Park (7:05 p.m. ET) is looking at a 30 percent chance of a thunderstorm in the City of Brotherly Love with temps in the 70s most of the game.
Philadelphia held an 8.5-game lead in the division over the Braves entering play Sunday. Atlanta was 7.5 ahead of the Cardinals for the wild card. Both clubs were finishing weekend series, the Phillies laying -220 on the road in Florida behind Roy Halladay and the Braves 120 home 'dogs to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
Monday finds a mound matchup between a couple of veterans that have recently been on their games. Derek Lowe (15-14, 4.52) will begin the series for Atlanta opposite Philadelphia's Cliff Lee (18-9, 2.59). It's the fourth start for each hurler this season against the opposing lineups and a rematch of a May 6 game at Citizens Bank Park.
Lee has strung together six consecutive wins and is coming off a fabulous month of August when he was a perfect 5-0 with a minuscule 0.45 ERA. Philly is 0-3 in his 2011 assignments vs. the Braves, Lee's ERA up there at 4.91 due to a pounding he took in Atlanta back in April.
Lowe has had his ups and downs all season, but has been up his last three starts with the Braves winning two. He's chopped more than a third of a run off his season ERA during the recent run, and has pitched very well in three tries vs. the Phils this season (19 IP, 2.84 ERA) though Atlanta is just 1-2 in those games.
The May 6 clash in Philadelphia between the two pitchers went to Lowe and the Braves who were +130 on the betting lines. Lowe worked six scoreless frames in the 5-0 victory, striking out four and allowing just two hits. Braves relievers did the rest of the work, striking out six of the 10 batters they faced the final three innings.
Lee struck out a career-high 16 and walked just one over seven innings, but Atlanta's lineup got to him for nine hits and scored three times.
Atlanta just got infielder Jack Wilson back from the disabled list following a short stint due to a heel injury. The Phillies are still doing without shortstop Jimmy Rollins (groin), and his status is in doubt for the entire series.
Twelve previous meetings between the clubs this year have been split down the middle, as well as split 3-3 at each locale. The 'under' is 4-1-1 in the six games hosted by the Phillies.
The clubs reconvene Tuesday night for Game 2 of the set, veteran Tim Hudson working for the Braves against Phillies rookie Vance Worley.