If the Braves really wanted to better their chances at a game series might have been crucial.
That didn't happen thanks to a brilliant outing by Cliff Lee and now Atlanta must face Philadelphia starter Vance Worley. And unfortunately for the Braves, it has been over three months since the Phillies last lost with the right- hander on the mound.
The Phils have won each of Worley's last 13 starts, the best run for the club with a pitcher since it captured 15 straight Steve Carlton starts in 1972. Worley himself has been a victor in each of his past eight decisions since his last loss on May 29.
He won his second straight start on Thursday at Cincinnati despite giving up four runs over six-plus innings while striking out seven. He still moved to 10-1 with a 2.85 earned run average and brings a 5-0 mark and 1.96 ERA in nine home starts this season.
"I got myself in trouble a couple times as usual," Worley said. "I found a way to get out, and I think as the game went on, my stuff got better."
The 23-year-old will face the Braves for the second time as a starter and his lone appearance versus them this year came in relief on May 13.
Atlanta will try to fare better tonight versus Worley then it did against former Cy Young Award Lee in a 9-0 setback last night. Lee notched his major league-leading sixth shutout of the season and hasn't allowed a run in 29 2/3 innings.
The lefty went over 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career and is the fourth lefty in Phillies history to reach that mark.
Philadelphia made sure not to waste his gem, with Hunter Pence driving in three runs and Shane Victorino adding a two-run single as the Phils pushed their edge for first place in the National League East to 8 1/2 games over the Braves.
Recent history for the Phillies has taught them that no lead in September is safe and Ryan Howard said his club needs to keep its foot on the gas.
"These guys, you can't let up on them for one second," said Howard, who hit a solo homer. "We've been on the other side of that where the Mets (in 2007) had that big lead in front of us going into September. Things happened bad for them and we wound up coming back."
While the Phillies won for the sixth time in eight games, the Braves have lost three of four but still lead the wild card race by 8 1/2 games over a pair of clubs. They played last night without Chipper Jones due to flu-like symptoms.
Derek Lowe suffered the loss after allowing seven runs -- five earned -- over five innings.
"If we make a play here and there, it might have been a little different story," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But for me, Cliff Lee, you've got to tip your hat tonight. He was dotting all his pitches and commanding both sides of the plate."
Tim Hudson eyes the seventh 15-win season of his career tonight when he takes on the Phillies.
A winner in nine of his past 11 decisions, Hudson had gone at least seven innings in nine straight starts prior to his last two outings. He opened this month with a win over the Nationals on Thursday, tossing six innings of one- run ball.
Though it was the right-hander's shortest appearance since July 2, it still left Gonzalez pleased.
"Very good outing," the manager said. "We swung the bats and did just enough to get him some runs and some support early."
Hudson is 14-8 with a 3.05 ERA on the season and faces the Phillies for the third time in 2011. The 36-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in that time and 7-7 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 career games against them.
These two NL East rivals entered this series having split 12 previous overall meetings and six in Philadelphia.