It's difficult to overstate the importance of this weekend's series against the Phillies. By Monday, the Braves could be as few as two games back of the Phills in the NL East or as many as eight. Baseball Prospectus currently gives the Braves a 44% chance of making the playoffs. Taking two or three games from Philadelphia should dramatically improve those odds. The series gets started on Friday night in Atlanta, where Jair Jurrjens and Joe Blanton are set to take the mound.
Blanton came to the Phillies last season via trade from the Oakland Athletics. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Blanton has been a solid mid-rotation type who is, at times, prone to being done in by the longball. (But then again, are there any pitchers who pitch half of their games in Citizens Bank about whom this cannot be said?) On the year, Blanton has pitched 132 innings, tallying 111 K and 35 BB while giving up 1.5 HR/9. Blanton has been particularly effective of late: in his past 28 1/3 innings, he has a 2.51 ERA on the strength of 20 K and just 2 BB over that same period.
Jair Jurrjens will be asked to manage the difficult task of limiting the damage done by the Phillies' lineup, a solid group to be sure but one that feasts on right-handed pitching in paricular. Jurrjens' overall performance this season had been characterized by deterioration in each base skill: strikeouts, walks, and groundball percentage. But Jurrjens caught fire after the All-Star break to bring his strikeout and walk ratios in line with those from 2008 (The only perceptible difference is an eight percent drop on his groundball rate.) In his last 29 IP, Jurrjens has struck out 25 against 9 walks on his way to a 3.41 ERA during that period.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 ET.
Good news, Phillies fans: Kenshin Kawakami is set to take the mound on Saturday. Philadelphia has yet to name a probable starter. Sunday's matchup will be much better for Atlanta, as staff ace Javier Vazquez will take on overrated rookie J.A. Happ.
A version of this article also appeared on the Braves Baseball Blog