Hanson surrendered three home runs and allowed the surging Phillies to improve their own postseason hopes with a 6-2 win over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.
The back-to-back home runs Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz hit off Hanson in the fourth inning proved to be decisive against Hanson, who has compiled a 5.87 ERA in his past 11 starts and completed at least six innings just once during this span.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has remained patient with Hanson as the 25-year-old pitcher has steadily increased doubts about his ability to live up to the great expectations that once surrounded him. But this approach could change if the Braves approach any must-win situations over the season’s final 11 games.
While the Braves need to be near perfect to have any hopes of catching the Nationals in the National League East race, they do have some room for error courtesy of their comfortable lead atop the Wild Card standings. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot entering Friday was five.
This cushion has allowed the luxury to hold out hope that Hanson might show some promise down the stretch. But they do not want to struggle this weekend and lose the opportunity to kill the Phillies’ hopes to claim the NL’s second Wild Card spot.
Left for dead just a month ago, the streaking Phillies are now just three games behind the Cardinals in the battle to win the second Wild Card entry. They scored 16 runs against the Mets on Thursday and hit a season-high four home runs in this series opener.
With the two Wild Card entrants scheduled to play each other in a one-game playoff to determine which team advances to the Division Series, the Braves certainly would like to avoid a potential matchup against the Phillies’ Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels.
The Phillies have won three of the past four games played against the Braves. Their only loss came on Sept. 2, when Chipper Jones capped a five-run ninth inning with a three-run, walk-off home run against All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Once again burdened by inconsistent command and the inability to regain the velocity he once possessed, Hanson allowed five earned runs, surrendered four hits and issued three walks in 5 1-3 innings.
This marked the fifth time in his career and second time this year that he allowed at least three home runs in a game.
The Phillies grabbed the lead in the first inning, when Juan Pierre tripled off the top of the right-center field wall and scored on a Chase Utley groundout. Kevin Frandsen opened the bottom of the third inning with a home run to left field. One inning later, Howard and Ruiz hit their back-to-back shots.