Braves take big step toward playoffs, hurt Phils

Braves take big step toward playoffs, hurt Phils

Braves take big step toward playoffs, hurt Phils
PHILADELPHIA -- After essentially having their way with the Phillies during the season's first five months, the Braves encountered some struggles this month. But with 10 games remaining this season, they are hoping that they have finally delivered a decisive blow to their division rival's postseason hopes.

Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward led the barrage that forced Roy Halladay to make one of the earliest exits of his career and watch helplessly as the Braves completed their 8-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon.

This victory combined with the Brewers' loss to the Nationals allowed the Braves to reduce their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to three. They remain positioned at the top of the National League Wild Card standings with a six-game lead over the second-place Cardinals.

"I think this was a big win for us for the simple fact that it slows Philly's roll a little bit," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I don't think anybody wants to face them in a one-game [Wild Card] playoff. With their three aces and that offense, it would be a tough task for anybody."

Fortunately for the Braves, one of those three aces, Halladay, has battled through a frustrating injury-plagued season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner battled some spasms in his right shoulder blade earlier this week and was not at his best as the Braves pounded him for seven runs and five hits in just 1 2/3 innings.

The only shorter outing of Halladay's career occurred on Sept. 10, 2006, when he exited after getting hit on the elbow by a Garret Anderson line drive with two outs in the first inning as a member of the Blue Jays.

"He didn't have his command," Freeman said. "He walked a lot more guys than he normally does [three]. He got ahead in the count and left some pitches out over the middle. Usually he doesn't do that."

Freeman gave the Braves an early lead with a three-run home run with two outs in the first inning, and Heyward chased Halladay with a three-run double with two outs in the second inning. Given a 7-0 lead by the time he took the mound in the second inning, Mike Minor passed another step in the maturation process by keeping his concentration and completing another impressive outing.

"He went out and gave us a chance to get up by a big margin, and he didn't stop pitching," Jones said. "The Mike Minor of years past may have, at some point, let them back in the game. He made a mistake here and there, but he held it to [two runs] and got himself out of a couple jams."

Minor limited the Phillies to two hits and two runs over six innings. The 24-year-old left-hander has a 2.37 ERA in his past 14 starts and a 1.09 ERA in the four starts he has made this month. This certainly was not expected when he exited June with a 6.20 ERA.

"Somebody was saying that the other day, they were like, 'At least you got the worst of it out in the beginning of the season and you're pitching better in the end,'" Minor said. "If it were the reverse, it would really [stink] right now."

Meanwhile, the Phillies sit four games behind the second-place Cardinals and in position to miss the playoffs for the first time since winning the first of five consecutive NL East titles in 2007. The two Wild Card entrants will compete in a one-game playoff to determine which advances to the Division Series.

"We did a good job of slowing their momentum and hopefully picking some up in the meantime," Jones said.

Jones' two-out single put runners at first and second base and extended the first inning long enough for Freeman to drill his no-doubt, three-run home run over the right-field wall. The 23-year-old first baseman has seven hits, including three home runs, in 15 career at-bats against Halladay.

Halladay encountered more two-out struggles after Michael Bourn singled to put runners at first and second base in the second inning. Martin Prado followed with a walk to load the bases and set the stage for Heyward to hit a 2-2 curveball down the right-field line.

"It's frustrating," Halladay said. "You're close to getting out of it, but they were not good pitches both times. It's obviously a good offensive team and a good team all around, so you can't make multiple mistakes."

Heyward' three-run double fueled his four-RBI performance and ended the day for Halladay, who posted an 11.21 ERA in four starts against the Braves this year. Halladay entered this year 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA in six career starts against Atlanta.

"He's not the same Halladay that I've seen," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He didn't look the same the last couple times we've faced him. But he's probably got us more than we've got him."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.