(Sports Network) - A few weeks ago, the season-ending series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves was supposed to be action-packed with the National League East title on the line.
Now the Phillies are just tuning up for the postseason after already capturing their fourth straight NL East crown and will take on a playoff-hungry Braves club tonight in the first of three straight games from Turner Field. The Phils have home-field advantage in the upcoming playoffs, while the Braves could join them in the postseason pending what happens over these final three games.
Right now the Braves are two games ahead of San Diego for the Wild Card berth in the Senior Circuit, while the Padres sit three games behind San Francisco in the NL West standings. The Padres will begin a three-game set with the Giants Friday and can force a play-in game with a sweep at AT&T Park. Atlanta will qualify for the playoffs in manager Bobby Cox's final season by winning two of three versus Philadelphia.
The Braves just swept the Florida Marlins to stay alive and are coming off Wednesday's 5-1 win in the series finale. David Ross had an RBI double and Brooks Conrad belted a three-run homer during a four-run third inning to keep the Braves' winning ways intact.
"Definitely, winning never gets old and we've got to have wins right now," said Conrad. "We'll have a real nice off day tomorrow and get rested up for the next series. The pitchers have been rolling for a long time and hopefully the offense will be catching up and doing our part."
Atlanta got 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball out of starter Derek Lowe (16-12), who also fanned nine batters for his 16th win.
The Braves, who are a major league-best 55-23 at home this season, will hand the ball to youngster Brandon Beachy tonight. Beachy has started two games this season and lost to Philadelphia on Sept. 20 at Citizens Bank Park, where he was reached for three runs -- one earned -- in 4 1/3 innings of a 3-1 loss.
Beachy did not figure into the decision of Sunday's 4-2 setback at Washington after he threw five innings of two-run ball. Tonight's game will be the right- hander's third start of his career.
Philadelphia is just trying to stay healthy and will use this weekend to decide on which reserves make the playoff roster. The Phillies won two of three meetings with Washington and posted a 7-1 victory in Wednesday's series finale from Nationals Park.
Ben Francisco ended with three hits, including two home runs, and three RBI, while Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry both went deep for the Phillies, who got seven solid innings from starter Joe Blanton. The righty allowed one unearned run and three hits with six strikeouts, and benefited from the run support.
"It's good to get some [at-bats] here in the last few days," Francisco said. "I think all of us are pretty excited to get in there. I mean, we've been sitting for a while. So it's pretty good to get out there and contribute."
The Phillies, who went 21-6 in September, will send Kyle Kendrick to the mound this evening, and he's 10-10 with a 4.76 earned run average in 32 games (30 starts) this season. He has dropped three of his last four decisions and was beaten by the New York Mets on Saturday, allowing four runs -- three earned -- and six hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 5-2 loss.
Kendrick has pitched well in his career against Atlanta, going 4-1 in nine career appearances (8 starts) with a 2.53 ERA.
Philadelphia leads the 2010 series with Atlanta by a slim 8-7 margin and swept a three-game series the last time these two clubs met from Sept. 20-22 at Citizens Bank Park. Atlanta is 4-2 in the six matchups as the host.