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Are the Phillies THAT much better than the Atlanta Braves?

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The Phillies are currently in first place, but right now that means absolutely nothing.

Just who have they beat who is that good? While some might say I'm too negative, I prefer to be called realistic. After Monday night's victory in Florida, the Phillies are an unimpressive 5-4 against teams with winning records.

I’m just going to say this now, so take it easy on the hate mail: At this point, the Braves trail the Phillies by six games, but they might not be that far behind them when it really counts down the stretch. Yes, I know the whole team is pretty much banged up, but I'm also taking into consideration how injured the Phillies are.

Atlanta can compete with the Fightins and they proved that last weekend. Their starters (including an aging Derek Lowe, who blanked the Phillies Friday night) might not be as good Derek Lowe photo: AP Photo/Barbara Johnston.(although going into Monday night's game, they had allowed one less run than the Phillies), but just like 2010, Sunday night’s loss is exactly the kind of game you could see the Phils losing in the playoffs.

The Braves' lineup is better, even when the Phillies are healthy, and Atlanta's’ three-headed monster of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Veters, and closer Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen  are mirror images of  J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge  from 2008.

The Braves followed the game plan of how to beat the Phillies: get to their starters and/or their bullpen, because the team no longer hits home runs, and can’t seem to manufacture runs. The Phillies were 3 for 11 with RISP Sunday.
 
Atlanta made a statement by coming in and beating Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The Phils are a veteran team, but don’t be surprised if this constant offensive ineptitude gets people to start pointing fingers. Even the strongest of clubhouses can get rattled at times.

To be fair, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz have not been in the lineup. However, they were in the lineup last year when runs were also at a premium. What is it going to take for Ruben Amaro to finally say “The hell with this,” and pull the trigger on a deal that will shake up this offense?

As far as the pitching goes, you can only hope Roy Oswalt's  back can take the pounding, and that Lidge and Jose Contreras are effective when they come back.

Meanwhile, a young and hungry Marlins team is on the rise as well. Youngsters Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan along with veteran (although he is currently struggling)  Hanley Ramirez are nothing to sneeze at.  As far as their pitching goes, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are off to strong starts, and their bullpen might be on par with the Phillies. How long they can stay in contention is anybody's guess, but don't count them out. The Phils barely escaped with that win Monday night. They are a scrappy team.

This next month and change will present the biggest challenges for the Phillies this year. During this stretch, they will play the Marlins, Braves, Rangers, Rockies, Cardinals, and Reds. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget their annual June swoon.

As far as experience goes, you obviously would have to give the Phils the nod there. But after what the Giants did last year, does that really matter? In the end, I still think the Phillies might win the NL East. But if the Braves or possibly Marlins win the Wild Card, they are not teams I’d want to play.  If the Phillies could hit decent pitching, I would feel differently, but there is no way they will get very far in the playoffs with that sputtering offense.

It's still early, but over the next week, we could find out how good the Braves really are.

And the Phillies better step up.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Thumbnail: AP Photo/Barbara Johnston