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Old 07-08-2011, 10:43 AM
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Default Atlanta Braves (53-36) at Philadelphia Phillies (55-33), 7:05 p.m. Read more: http:/

Atlanta Braves (53-36) at Philadelphia Phillies (55-33), 7:05 p.m.

With a dominating starting pitching staff that features three All-Stars, the Philadelphia Phillies seemed as if they would cruise into the All-Star break atop the National League East.

The Atlanta Braves can throw a wrench into that plan this weekend however, with the two division rivals set to open a key three-game series tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia leads all of baseball with a 55-33 record, but that is only good enough for a 2 1/2-game edge over Atlanta for the NL East's top spot. That is because the Braves have gone a major league-best 23-10 since June 1.

Both teams have excelled on the mound, with Atlanta leading all of baseball with a collective 3.02 earned run average. Starter Jair Jurrjens is the NL's only current 12-game winner and leads the majors with a 1.87 ERA.

Jurrjens, though, won't pitch in this series after picking up a victory on Thursday over the Rockies. That is good news for the Phillies, who are second in the majors with a 3.05 ERA and will throw three straight All-Stars in this series: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Halladay gets the call in the opener looking to join Jurrjens as a 12-game winner. Philadelphia has won each of his last nine starts, with Halladay going 6-0 in that span.

Halladay's last losing start came on May 15 and it was to the Braves after he yielded three runs over eight innings in a 3-2 setback. It was the first loss of the right-hander's career to the Braves, against whom he is 4-1 lifetime with a 1.65 ERA.

The 34-year-old former Cy Young Award winner has won two straight starts, hurling a complete game in each outing. After holding the A's to a run in a June 26 win, Halladay made an emotional return to Toronto last weekend and bested his former club on Saturday with a three-run outing that featured eight strikeouts.

The Phillies will hope that Halladay (11-3, 2.44 ERA) isn't emotionally tapped out for the start of this big series. Philadelphia allowed Atlanta to make up some ground in the division by losing Wednesday's meeting with Florida, 7-6, in 10 innings. The Phillies blew a three-run lead, with the bullpen getting touched for four runs in the club's third defeat in 10 games.

"It slipped away from us," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "They capitalized on everything we did wrong."

John Mayberry Jr. hit a pair of homers and Raul Ibanez drove in two runs for the Phillies, who have played three straight games without outfielder Shane Victorino (sprained left thumb) and two in a row minus third baseman Placido Polanco (lower back).

Both players were selected to next week's All-Star game, with Victorino winning the Final Vote spot on Thursday for the second time in his career, but may miss the game. Polanco, meanwhile, could return tonight after also getting some rest due to yesterday's off day.

With the Phillies sitting idol, the Braves kept the heat on by finishing off a four-game sweep of the Rockies thanks to a 6-3 victory. Freddie Freeman highlighted a five-run third inning with a three-run homer, Jason Heyward also homered and drove in two, and closer Craig Kimbrel set a major league rookie record by notching his 27th save before the All-Star break.

Freeman homered four times in the series and his output on Thursday helped make a winner out of Tim Hudson, who yielded three runs over 7 1/3 innings. Atlanta has won 14 of 17 and nine of its last 10.

"It's a huge game. We needed to win that one, last game of the series on a hot day. It was good to grind it out there and get a win," noted Heyward. "Hudson's always showing us what to do on a day like this. He's a bulldog, knows how to battle. We're proud to play behind him."

While pitching has been a strength of the Braves, a meeting for starter Brandon Beachy with the Phillies could knock the wheels off the cart quickly. The 24-year-old is 3-3 in 14 career starts, with 11 of those come this year, but all three of those setbacks have come versus Philadelphia, which has tagged him for 10 earned runs over 18 innings.

In fact, Beachy's last loss this season came on April 9 against the Phillies as he allowed four runs over six innings. He also got a no-decision versus the club on May 13, yielding three runs over just two innings before exiting with a left oblique injury that sidelined him until June 22.

That outing is part of Beachy's current nine-start unbeaten streak and he did claim back-to-back victories in interleague play before getting a no-decision versus the Orioles on Sunday. The righty was charged with three runs over five innings of that outing, giving him a 3-1 mark and 3.23 ERA this season. He is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts on the road in 2011.

The Braves have won five of nine over the Phillies this year, but Philadelphia did take two of three at home from May 6-8.

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