Braves won't overthink early-July Phillies series

When the Braves play the Phillies this weekend, it will be the last time the two teams meet before September.

It will be a chance for the Braves to get as close to the Phillies as they’ve been in almost two months, after hovering around four or five games back for three weeks.

But that doesn’t mean the Braves, 2 1/2 games back after a 6-3 victory Thursday against Colorado, look at this series in Philadelphia as some kind of must-win proposition.

“It’s still early in the season,” said Braves pitcher Derek Lowe, who will start the finale Sunday against Cole Hamels. “Just don’t get swept.”

Braves veterans might be trying to ease some of the pressure off a fairly young clubhouse with an at-least-take-a-game-or-two attitude. But considering the stakes of some of the series they’ve played with the Phillies over the past year, the approach makes some sense.

Must-win series? How about the final series of the regular season last year against the Phillies, when the Braves had to win to make the postseason? Or the three-game series in Philadelphia late last September, which was in essence the Braves’ last chance to stake a claim to the division?

By comparison, this one doesn’t carry the weight, especially not to a team that has the second-best record in the National League and now appreciates the value of the wild card.

“We control our own destiny regardless,” Chipper Jones said. “There’s been less emphasis on winning the [NL East] since the wild card got here. Yeah, [a division title] is a nice thing to have on your mantle, but just getting there is the big part.”

The Braves lead the Diamondbacks by 5 1/2 games in the wild card, pending the outcome of Thursday night’s games.

Reading between the lines, the comments from veterans such as Jones and Lowe also reflect some confidence on the part of the Braves.

They’ve played well against the Phillies this season, holding a 5-4 advantage in the season series. The Braves have won each of the past two series.

The Braves also have some pretty good recent history to draw on against an otherwise daunting weekend rotation for the Phillies. The Braves have beaten Friday night’s starter Roy Halladay once this season, Saturday’s starter Cliff Lee twice and Hamels once.

“We know we can play with the Phillies,” Jones said. “All three pitchers that we’re going to face, we’ve beaten during the course of the season. We won a series in Philly against them. We won a series here against them.

“We’ve got a winning record against the best team in baseball, record-wise, up through 85-90 games of the season, so we know we can play with them.”

Jones said if the Braves focus on playing like they’ve been playing — they have won nine of 10 — they’ll end up where they need to be, when they need to be. And that’s in September — when things will really heat up against the Phillies.

The Braves play three games in Philadelphia on Sept. 5-7 and close the regular season against the Phillies at Turner Field for the second year in a row, Sept. 26-28.

“In September, if we’re close to them for the division, if the wild-card race has tightened up, that’s when it gets important,” Jones said.

In the meantime, expect it to be close. The teams know each other well. Games usually are close and often decided late. The past three times they played, in mid-May at Turner Field, when the Braves took two out of three, the three games were decided by a total of four runs.

“They know how to pitch our guys. We know how to pitch their guys,” Lowe said. “It’s just a matter of if you can execute or not.”

Since their previous series ended May 15, the Braves are 30-17, and the Phillies are 30-19.

Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Braves expect more of the same during the two months until they see the Phillies again.

“They’re not going to fade, just like we’re not going to fade,” Lowe said. “It’s just going to come down to the last couple weeks, and I think that’s the way both teams would want it.”