Florida topped Houston 9-2 yesterday, putting them 4.5 back in the East. Meanwhile, Atlanta, just 5 back, has won five straight and have a league-best 17-9 mark since the break.
In a move that made little sense to others, reacquiring second-half stud Adam LaRoche has already made a huge difference for a Braves team that is finally starting to put it all together. A career .295 hitter after the break, LaRoche as turned on the afterburners right on cue, hitting .371 with three homers and seven RBIs since the Braves swapped first basemen Casey Kotchman with Boston. The trade may have also had something to do with LaRoche's past performance against the Phillies, against whom he is a .302/.363/.547 hitter, including a fair number of clutch hits coming at the most opportune times for Atlanta. LaRoche is one of many Phillie killers peppered through the lineups of their closest competitors. We saw the handiwork of Cody Ross and Wes Helms in the Marlins series. Martin Prado, who stunned the Phils in a dominant series sweep their last meeting, has had something of a breakout season, while Brian McCann seems to save his best for games against the defending champs.
When the two sides meet for three starting tonight at 7 p.m., it will undoubtedly mean more for the Braves, who are starting to believe they have the right combination of pitching and hitting to take the division by stormf. With a team ERA of 3.69 and an airtight rotation, which will set up this series with Jair Jurrjens (3.01), Kenshin Kawakami (4.12) and Javier Vasquez (2.90), the Phils must come ready to play.