(Sports Network) – The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t had a 20-game winner in 28 years. If Roy Halladay can reach the mark this evening, he’ll put his club one step closer to a fourth straight National League East title.
Halladay eyes a fourth straight winning start and Philadelphia goes for a season-best ninth victory in a row in the middle contest of a three-game series versus the second-place Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies and Braves began this key NL East set on Monday with Philadelphia three games up in the race for the division crown. The two-time defending NL champions increased that edge by one with a 3-1 victory, lowering their magic number to clinch the division to eight.
Cole Hamels allowed just a Brian McCann RBI double over eight innings to win his career-best fifth straight start, while Brad Lidge hurled a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts for his 24th save as Philadelphia matched its longest winning streak of the season and won for the 20th time in its last 24 games.
“For us, it’s just another game, another stepping stone,” said Hamels of the Phillies, who became the first NL team to reach 90 wins this year.
Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez all drove in a run for the Phillies.
With Jair Jurrjens scratched from the start due to a sore right knee, Brandon Beachy made his major-league debut for Atlanta and took the loss, allowing three runs over 4 1/3 innings. Two of those runs were unearned after outfielder Jason Heyward was unable to secure a Shane Victorino liner, leading to a three-base error and eventually a pair of runs for the Phillies.
“The ball went into the wind. It knuckled off the bat,” Heyward said of his approach to the eventual key error. “I got a great jump off the bat. I didn’t want to lollygag it, wanted to get over as quickly as possible. The wind just took it further out of my reach.”
The Braves, who had won five of six over the Phillies heading into the series, had a three-game win streak snapped but still lead the NL Wild Card race by two games over San Diego.
Atlanta will try to avoid falling further behind Philadelphia against Halladay, who is aiming to become the NL’s first 20-game winner this year and the Phils’ first since Steve Carlton in 1982
Though he has won three straight starts, Halladay has given up at least three runs in each of his last five outings, yielding nine homers in that span. He beat Florida on Wednesday, giving up three runs on 10 hits with nine strikeouts over six frames while upping his MLB-leading total to 234 2/3 innings.
“I feel good. Stamina-wise I felt real good. I haven’t gotten tired at the end of games,” said Halladay. “There’s times you feel it’s not April. You feel you don’t have that extra giddy-up sometimes. But I feel as good now as I have at any other year at this point.”
The 33-year-old righty appears to have a great shot at locking down his 20th win against the Braves, who he has already thrown two complete games against this year. He hurled a five-hit shutout on April 21 in Atlanta and a one-run complete game in Philadelphia on July 5.
Lifetime, Halladay is 3-0 with a 0.63 earned run average in four games (three starts) versus the Braves, and is 19-10 with a 2.49 ERA overall this season.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, gets its first-ever look at 22-year-old Mike Minor, who is coming off his first MLB loss that came in his seventh career start.
The Braves left-hander gave up four runs on four hits over five innings of a 4-2 setback to Washington on Wednesday, serving up a grand slam in the second inning. Minor fell to 3-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season.
Atlanta holds a slim 7-6 edge over Philadelphia in the season series. The two clubs close out the regular season against each other with three games in Atlanta from Oct. 1-3.