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Philadelphia Phillies: Atlanta Braves Series Will Disappoint, Not Preview NLCS

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Philadelphia Phillies: Atlanta Braves Series Will Disappoint, Not Preview NLCS
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
That's how we feel too, Shane Victorino (above) about the upcoming series with the Atlanta Braves, stripped of meaning by injuries and these early calendar months.

You want to get pumped for Phillies-Braves tonight, the first of a three-game tilt before the All-Star break. But you can't.

You tell yourself it's replete with consequence. At least that's what the National League East leaderboard is hinting.

But it doesn't matter. Apathy ought to be abound.

This series couldn't mean less.

At its simplest, these aren't the teams you'll see in August. Injuries shelf Phillies Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino (among Roy Oswalt and the docket of beat-up relievers), and the Braves are less their top dealer, Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA).

That makes for forgettable pitching matchups—Roy Halladay (11-3, 2.44) vs. Brandon Beachy (3-1, 3.23), Cliff Lee (9-6, 2.92) vs. Tommy Hanson (9-4, 2.62), Cole Hamels (10-4, 2.40) vs. Derek Lowe (5-6, 4.21)—and lopsided, yet empty, Phils wins.

These won't be the teams you see come October, either, given how contenders are reshaped by time.

Like whether the bats can transcend mediocrity when the pitching proves substandard. And whether they can maintain it.

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Like whether the arms can hang tough on nights they're rattled. Gamesmanship during a 0-0 ninth inning is easy to conjure. What about in a 5-4 lead with two on and nobody out in the seventh after serving two home runs earlier?

That will prove this team's telling moment(s). Not a snap shot, but a collage.

This team can change in an instant, if Ruben Amaro addresses their foremost issues: health, depth and hitting. That's the real plot here—the undercurrent flowing beneath Citizens Bank Park—far more than the theatrics above.

Figuring that out might take three phone calls. But not three clips of nine innings.

As for how those go...

If the Phils blow it—three games, a lead in the division, an upswing they hoped to ride, if not pad, beyond the break—they still haven't really lost anything. There's more than ample time to recover, whatever that means.

Should the Phils get hosed tonight, it's explainable, between Atlanta's nine-of-10 games hot streak and their unfamiliarity with a scouting report phantom like Beachy. But that won't be the first 15 minutes of Troy. No demoralization. No lingering effects.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Played on a bigger stage, say the season finales on Sept. 26-28, this three-game tilt might mean more. But it's not, so it doesn't.

Just one loss of seven on Halladay's season.

Had this been September 26-28, the Phils last three regular-season games, all at Turner Field, it'd be a different story.

But it's not. Antsy as you might be, it's July, making this as much a summer hit as June's slew of box-office flops.

That's typical with baseball's regular season, overdrawn and underwhelming. But not for a series like this—at least what it should have been, as hyped as the Red Sox series was.

Wasn't exactly the World Series preview we wanted. Nor will tonight be an NLCS teaser.

Worst case scenario: the Phils fall to a half-game back, Atlanta's lead if it sweeps, and thumb-twiddle until July 15 to make it up against the Mets, the perfect time for inflating youngsters' confidence.

That might be the series' only losable commodity: momentum from Vance Worley, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Michael Martinez and John Mayberry Jr., all of whom the Phils lean heavily on. If Worley gets shellacked on another May 29 or Mayberry face-plants on a crucial play in the outfield or Bastardo and Stutes get buried, that could be costly.

But they've already shown resilience. Cue Worley's bounce-back as evidence.

And Charlie Manuel has shown rationality as recently as Wednesday, when he didn't pitch Stutes or Bastardo longer than an inning each, mindful of the situation: the setting (the road), their age (delicate) and the goal (lasting). They might stumble, but it won't be because Manuel pushes them.

Plus, few of life's pleasures rival whupping on the Mets, let alone a Jose Reyes- and David Wright- and Ike Davis-less Mets, let alone ones overachieving by way of 10 wins in their last 15. Nothing like kicking Frank Wilpon when he's down. (Or up, to his ears in debt and legal filings and his own ill-fated commentary.)

At least that will be something to talk (or laugh) about, unlike tonight. Unlike tomorrow.

Unlike anything before September.

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