The Atlanta Braves appear in no danger of losing their sizable NL East lead, and only a collapse for the ages - one even bigger than their 2011 debacle - would prevent them from securing a second straight postseason berth.
None of that, not even the team's recent run of eight victories in 10 games, prevents manager Fredi Gonzalez from feeling dejected from time to time.
"It's funny, the game of baseball, you're as good as the last game you played," Gonzalez said.
He'll likely be in a much better mood if Atlanta can bounce back from a rare defeat while beginning its seven-game road trip with a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.
The Braves (85-54) are up by 14 games over Washington in the East, and their first division title since 2005 seems inevitable. The size of the lead even seems to render their 2011 collapse irrelevant to their current situation.
Atlanta led the wild-card race by 10 1/2 games in late August of that year when its slide to eventual elimination from contention began, a lead that had been cut to 8 1/2 that Sept. 6.
They're coming off a 7-2 homestand, but Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the New York Mets left Gonzalez feeling a bit down as the team headed for Philadelphia.
"I've been on airplanes after going 9-1 and you just happened to lose that last game, and you feel terrible," Gonzalez said. "Same thing, we won two out of three (against the Mets), happened to lose the last one here and we feel terrible. But we've said our goal is to win series, and that's what we did. We won three of them (on the homestand)."
Atlanta also took two of three from the Phillies in their last series Aug. 12-14, and it has won five of the last six meetings. The Braves also got the best of Cliff Lee the last time they faced him, and he'll be on the mound again Friday.
Though Lee (11-6, 3.09 ERA) has gone 5-2 with a 1.73 ERA in his last eight starts against Atlanta, he allowed four runs - three earned - in five innings of a 4-1 loss Aug. 4.
The left-hander also didn't have his best stuff Saturday, tying his season high with three walks while allowing three runs - two earned - and nine hits in five innings of Philadelphia's 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs ."He just seemed a little out of sync the whole start, throwing a lot of pitches, missing just off the plate," interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's a guy that usually pitches ahead in the count and goes after it and pounds the zone."
The Phillies' 4.27 ERA ranks last in the NL, and the bullpen faltered Wednesday after Roy Halladay pitched six solid innings of a 3-2 loss to Washington.
Chase Utley had three hits and rookie Cesar Hernandez drove in both runs for the Phillies (63-77), losers of four of five. They'll face a Braves team that boasts a major league-best 3.19 ERA as Mike Minor takes the mound Friday.
Minor (13-5, 3.08) went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia in 2012, giving up two runs and two hits in six innings of an 8-2 win the last time he faced the Phillies on Sept. 22.
The left-hander, who has yet to pitch against Philadelphia this season, has gone 2-0 with a 5.16 ERA over his last four starts. He allowed four runs in seven innings of a 5-4, 11-inning win over Miami on Saturday.
Minor went 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his previous six outings for Atlanta, loser of four of six on the road.
|August 29, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Left hand injury|
|August 22, 2013||Jason Heyward||15-Day DL||Fractured right jaw|
|August 21, 2013||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|August 20, 2013||Justin Upton||Day-to-Day||Strained upper back|
|August 15, 2013||Tyler Pastornicky||15-Day DL||Torn left ACL - out for season|
|August 13, 2013||Dan Uggla||15-Day DL||Eye surgery|
|August 30, 2013||Domonic Brown||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right Achilles|
|August 28, 2013||Cody Asche||Day-to-Day||Strained left hamstring|
|August 26, 2013||Casper Wells||15-Day DL||Vision complications|
|August 17, 2013||Michael Young||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore left ankle|
|August 15, 2013||John Lannan||60-Day DL||Left knee tendinitis|
|August 14, 2013||John Lannan||Day-to-Day||Knee|
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- By the time he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning, Cody Asche had seen enough of Mike Minor to know that the Atlanta Braves left-hander had his best stuff.
That didn't stop the rookie third baseman from swinging away on the first pitch he saw, belting a two-run homer to lift the Philadelphia Phillies to a 2-1 victory Friday night.
The go-ahead blast was all Cliff Lee needed to outduel Minor in a matchup of two of the league's premier southpaws.
"I definitely thought he didn't want to fall behind in that situation," Asche said. "I think on my first at-bats, he threw some good pitches first pitch. So I was looking for a strike, something up on the zone and something I could put some good wood on and drive."
After surrendering a homer to Andrelton Simmons leading off the third inning, Lee (12-6) didn't allow a hit through eight innings. He finished with 10 strikeouts without a walk, giving up just two hits.
In his first time facing the Phillies this season, Minor (13-6) allowed four hits and two earned runs in seven innings, striking out nine and walking one.
"It was a pretty darn good pitching matchup," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Both were throwing strikes with all of their pitches. . Lee is one of the top pitchers in the majors. If he's on, it's going to be a tough night."
Asche, who was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on July 31, hit his fourth homer of the season and is 7 for 11 with five RBIs in his last three games. He boosted his average to .287 despite starting out his major league career on a 1-for-17 streak.
Asche made a sharp bare-handed play at third in the ninth to help Jonathan Papelbon record his 25th save of the season.
"I wouldn't say my nerves have dissipated," Asche said of his recent hot streak. "I just think you learn to control them."
Asche wasn't the only Phillie at his best in the field. Lee, who had allowed eight runs combined in his previous two starts against the Braves, was backed up by some impressive defensive plays all night.
In the sixth inning, second baseman Chase Utley made a sprawling catch to rob Justin Upton of a base hit. And two innings before that, center fielder Cesar Hernandez ran a long way to track down a shot in the gap from Evan Gattis .
"I think it helps when I'm throwing strikes and working fast," Lee said. "I'm not trying to take credit because the guys were making great plays. But it all kind of goes hand in hand."
Simmons homered to left field to lead off the third inning. It was the 14th homer of the season for Simmons and the league-leading 161st for the Braves.
Simmons made a big defensive play at shortstop, going deep in the hole and firing a rocket to first to nab the speedy Jimmy Rollins to end the sixth.
Rollins got the Phillies' first hit of the game with a bloop single to lead off the fourth but was thrown out trying to extend it into a double. No Phillie got into scoring position until Asche's homer in the seventh.
"It looked like (Minor) made one mistake to Asche there, just like I made one mistake to Simmons in the third," Lee said. "It came down to one swing of the bat."
NOTES: Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee told reporters before the game that Ethan Martin would move to the bullpen with Tyler Cloyd replacing him in the rotation. A former first-round draft pick who was traded to the Phils for Shane Victorino last year, Martin went 2-4 with a 6.90 ERA in seven starts since getting called up from Triple-A. ... At 2 hours and 14 minutes, Friday's game marked the shortest nine-inning game for the Phillies this season. ... The Braves dipped to 34-35 on the road this season. They are 51-20 at home. Atlanta had won eight of its last 10 and was 29-10 in their last 39 games before Friday's loss. ... Eight of Simmons' last nine hits have gone for extra bases. ... Lee has given up 19 homers, the most on the Phillies' staff. ... Atlanta's Alex Wood (3-3) opposes Kyle Kendrick (10-12) on Saturday.