Inside the Phillies: Braves' lineup impresses Phillies' Manuel

The Braves' Jason Heyward (left) and Justin Upton celebrate with B.J. Upton (2) after both scored. DANIEL SHIREY / Getty
The Braves' Jason Heyward (left) and Justin Upton celebrate with B.J. Upton (2) after both scored. DANIEL SHIREY / Getty
Posted: April 05, 2013

ATLANTA - Justin Upton had not yet hit his second home run in as many games, an opposite-field shot that showed off the 25-year-old outfielder's remarkable strength.

Freddie Freeman had not yet cleared the bases with a three-run double into left-center on a line drive that showcased the 23-year-old first baseman's sweet lefthanded swing.

Jason Heyward had not yet hit his first home run, a two-run shot in the eighth that sealed the Atlanta Braves' 9-2 rout over a besieged Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

Charlie Manuel did not need to see it to know that he likes the combination of youth and power that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will get to insert into his lineup on a daily basis this season.

"They've got a big-time offensive team," the Phillies manager said. "They've got some guys that can punch out some, but at the same time they've got guys that can hurt you all the way through the lineup. You get by one guy, and the inning's not over. You've got to get by two more guys."

The Braves struck out 16 times Wednesday night, including nine times in just 31/3 innings against Halladay, but they also hit three home runs, giving them six in their first two games. They had seen Halladay before, but never quite like this.

"Yeah, a little bit different," Gonzalez said. "I couldn't tell you what it is. His velocity is maybe a mile or two from what we've seen, but I couldn't tell you much more than that, not living with him or knowing what's going on over there. His sinker was moving down. The only thing that really stands out for me is the high pitch count."

It took Halladay 40 pitches to get through the first inning and 95 to record 10 outs. "Usually 40 pitches for him and he's in the sixth," Gonzalez said.

Heyward, who singled in front of Upton's home run to trigger the Braves' three-run first inning, noticed the difference, too.

"All I know about any pitcher is if they don't have the same [velocity], then they're going to have to finesse more," he said. "They have less room for error. He was mixing and matching, so that's why you saw him get nine strikeouts. He did mix and match well."

Unlike the Braves' young lineup, however, Halladay is not getting better.

Manuel has seen his share of great offensive teams over the last 20 years, and now he looks at the Braves and loves what he sees, even if the Braves have five hitters - Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Heyward, and Freeman - who are capable of striking out 150 times in a season.

Perhaps most telling about Manuel's praise for the Braves was his response to a question about whether he thought they have the best lineup in baseball. He was not ready to concede that title to Atlanta, but only because he really likes Washington's lineup, too.

"They've got [Denard] Span, he's new to them, and, of course, [Bryce] Harper looks like he keeps improving," Manuel said. "They've got a pretty good lineup, so I'd have to see them a little bit more before I'd say [the Braves] have a better lineup."

The point about Harper improving can also be made about Freeman and Heyward. "The Upton brothers are still improving, too," Manuel said.

By contrast, the Phillies only have two players who appear to be on the ascent. One is Domonic Brown, and the other is Ben Revere.

Manuel could begin to like his own lineup more when catcher Carlos Ruiz returns from his 25-game suspension and outfielder Delmon Young joins the team from the disabled list.

But these Phillies were built on pitching, and in the first two games they were betrayed by Cole Hamels and Halladay.

Cliff Lee, coming off a star-crossed 2012 season, will try to salvage the final game of the season-opening series Thursday night. But because the first two guys in the once-vaunted rotation did not get the job done, the pressure has been turned up on him.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @brookob.

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