Hamels leads Phillies into Atlanta

Still waiting to see if he'll land a longterm contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, left-hander Cole Hamels aims for his fourth straight win tonight against the rival Atlanta Braves.

Hamels gets the nod in the opener of this three-game series from Turner Field and has won each of his past three starts, including Wednesday's 7-2 defeat of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert. Hamels went a season-high eight innings and allowed two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts.

The southpaw and 2008 World Series MVP improved to 3-1 in four starts and sports a 2.73 earned run average. Hamels will make his third straight road start against the Braves and is 11-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 24 career appearances -- 23 starts -- in this series. The 24 games is the most against any team.

Philadelphia will begin a stretch of nine games against NL East foes -- Atlanta, Washington, New York -- and earned a split of a four-game series versus the Chicago Cubs with Monday's 6-4 victory. The Phillies opened the first inning with four runs before letting the Cubs get back into the game with four runs spanning the seventh and eighth innings.

Placido Polanco then put the hosts ahead for good with a two-run double in the eighth inning, lifting the Phillies to their fourth win in six tries. Carlos Ruiz finished with two RBI, while Pete Orr went 2-for-3 and drove in a run.

"Those wins are awesome. They can be momentum wins that turn everything around and get us going strong," said Orr.

Phils starter Vance Worley did not factor in the decision and tossed seven strong innings, allowing one run and five hits, and Chad Qualls was credited with the win despite a blown save. Jonathan Papelbon shut the Cubs down in the ninth inning for his eighth save.

Atlanta split a four-game series versus the Pittsburgh Pirates to open a seven-game homestand and was handed a 9-3 loss last night. Braves starter Mike Minor was hammered for seven runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings and Chad Durbin gave up two runs in relief.

Freddie Freeman hit a two-run homer and veteran Eric Hinske had a nice night at the plate, going 4-for-4 with an RBI for the Braves, who have still won 14 of 19 games following an 0-4 start. The Braves sit one-half game behind the Nationals for the NL East lead.

"We settled down a little bit and starting making pitches. He (Pirates starter James McDonald) didn't give us much to hit," said Freeman. "We still hit some balls hard, but they went right at people in the later innings."

Braves outfielder Jason Heyward could return to the lineup Tuesday after missing Monday's loss with soreness around his right oblique muscle.

Taking the ball for the hosts tonight will be Brandon Beachy, who is coming off a no-decision following back-to-back victories. Beachy did not factor in the outcome of a 4-2 win at Los Angeles on Wednesday and held the Dodgers to two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts over 6 1/3 frames.

Beachy is 2-1 in four starts and saw his earned run average go from 0.47 to 1.05. The righty won his only home start of the season on April 15 versus Milwaukee and is still in search of his first win over Philadelphia. In six career starts against the Phillies, Beachy is 0-3 with a 3.94 ERA. His 29 2/3 innings pitched in this series are a career-high.

The Braves were eliminated from postseason contention last year by the Phillies and went 6-12 in this series in 2011. Philadelphia has won seven in a row against Atlanta and three straight at Turner Field.