Pursuing Braves a daunting task for Phils The key for the Phillies may be in concentrating on each day's opponent, and not on what Atlanta is doing.

Posted: August 12, 2001

Chasing the Atlanta Braves.

No team has more experience doing that in recent seasons than the New York Mets, who finished second to the mighty Braves in the National League East in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Todd Pratt was with the Mets for all three of those seasons, including last year, when the teams were separated by just one game in the final standings.

Now, Pratt is chasing the Braves again, this time as a member of the Phillies.

It can be a daunting task, trying to catch a confident and seasoned team that has made winning a habit over the last decade.

Having lived the chase, Pratt has some advice for his fellow Phillies, who yesterday moved into a first-place tie with the Braves in the NL East standings with seven weeks of season remaining.

"I think the big thing we have to do is not worry about the Braves," Pratt said. "We have to go play. We have to hit and pitch. When I was with the Mets, we didn't worry about the Braves. We worried about the team we played that day, and that was the reason for our success."

The odds might seem stacked against the Phillies as they try to overtake the Braves for good.

For one thing, the Braves still have one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball, led by four-time NL Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, born-again winner John Burkett, and Tom Glavine, who has been brilliant since the all-star break.

The Braves are also extremely experienced, having won nine straight division titles (three came in the NL West) and ridden the roller coaster of postseason play each year.

Aside from Pratt, Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook and closer Jose Mesa, the Phils have little postseason experience. The crux of their lineup averages well under 30 years of age and has experienced only losing seasons, never mind a pennant race.

"The Braves' experience doesn't worry me," Phils manager Larry Bowa said. "Our lack of experience worries me. That's not a rip at these guys. They just haven't been there yet. Even our big guys, Scotty [Rolen] and Bobby [Abreu], haven't played on a winning team."

Pratt, who joined the Phils in a trade last month, thinks experience is all that is separating the two teams.

"Their lineup is not as scary, and their pitching is not as dominant as it was in the past," he said of the Braves. "Their experience is what allows them to lead the division."

In Pratt's opinion, the Braves are more vulnerable than they have been in the past. So the Phillies should not let their inexperience stop them from believing they can win the division.

"This team is awesome," Pratt said. "I don't think this team knows it's as good as it is because it hasn't won yet. This team hasn't closed the lid on anyone yet. It's never been in this position. If we come out of this smelling like roses, there's no reason this organization can't win for 10 years like them. The talent is here."

If the Phillies have one thing going for them in their chase of the Braves, it's their remaining schedule. Including today's game against Los Angeles, the Phils have just 15 games remaining against teams that can be considered contenders. Seven of those games are against the Braves next month.

The Braves' remaining schedule includes 21 games against contending teams. In addition to seven against the Phils, the Braves play series against Arizona, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Cubs.

So far this season, the Phillies and Braves have played 12 times, with the Braves winning seven of those games.

Offensively, the Braves and Phils are not far apart from each other. Their bullpens are also comparable.

Where the Braves rise above the Phils is in starting pitching. Maddux has won 15 games for the 14th straight season. Burkett, who was released by the Devil Rays in the spring of 2000, has led the league in ERA much of the season. Glavine, after a poor first half, has a 1.69 ERA in six starts after the all-star break.

While Glavine has turned it on after the break, the Phillies have seen their top lefty, Omar Daal, scuffle for wins. The Phils are 0-5 in his last five starts.

Braves starting pitchers have the best ERA in the league (3.46 entering Friday). Phillies starters are giving up over a run per game more than that.

If the Phils are to stay close and play big games against the Braves in September, Daal and Robert Person must pitch to their capabilities, and the rookie trio of David Coggin, Nelson Figueroa and Brandon Duckworth must continue to pitch like veteran studs. In another week, Randy Wolf will be back from the disabled list, and he will also be counted on heavily.

So, can the Phillies catch the Braves?

"Everything has to fall right," Bowa said. "Our kids have to keep pitching good. Our bullpen has to pitch like it did in the first half. We have to hit."

Make no mistake, Bowa thinks it can be done.

"I'm not saying they're vulnerable, but if you do the things you're supposed to do, you can beat them," he said.

A year before beginning their impressive nine-year run of division titles, the Braves were a last-place team, a 97-game loser in 1990.

The Phillies, of course, were a last-place team, a 97-game loser, last year.

Look at them now - in the thick of a pennant race that most everyone thought they were a year or two away from.

"It's very easy to get caught up in that 'We're young, we have a great future' stuff," Bowa said. "But it doesn't work that way. Do I like our future? Yes. But you can't take anything for granted. Who am I to say we won't have three pitchers blow out in spring training? You have to play for the moment in this game.

"Guys on this team should be coming to the park every day feeling ecstatic. They're in a pennant race. This is what you dream about when you're a kid."

Jim Salisbury's e-mail address is jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

Down the Stretch They Come

Home series in bold.

Phillies

Remaining Schedule

Today Los Angeles

Aug. 14-16 at Milwaukee

Aug. 17-19 at St. Louis

Aug. 21-23 Houston

Aug. 24-27 Arizona

Aug. 28-30 at N.Y. Mets

Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Montreal

Sept. 3-5 N.Y. Mets

Sept. 6-9 at Montreal

Sept. 11-13 at Atlanta

Sept. 14-16 at Cincinnati

Sept. 17-20 Atlanta

Sept. 21-23 Florida

Sept. 25-27 Cincinnati

Sept. 28-30 at Florida

Remaining Opponents'

Winning Percentage. . . ... .489

Pre-All-Star Record. . . 49-37

Post-All-Star Record. . . 13-15

Last 10. . . 5-5

Team Batting Average. . . .. .267

Team ERA. . . 4.37

Statistics through Thursday.

Atlanta

Today Arizona

Aug. 14-16 at Colorado

Aug. 17-19 at San Francisco

Aug 21-23 San Diego

Aug. 24-27 Los Angeles

Aug. 28-30 Montreal

Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Chicago Cubs

Sept. 3-5 at Montreal

Sept. 7-9 at Chicago Cubs

Sept. 11-13 Phillies

Sept. 14-16 Florida

Sept. 17-20 at Phillies

Sept. 21-23 at N.Y. Mets

Sept. 24-27 at Florida

Sept. 28-30 N.Y. Mets

Winning Percentage. . . .. .507

Pre-All-Star Record. . . 48-38

Post-All-Star Record. . . 16-12

Team Batting Average. . . .266

Team ERA. . . 3.62

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