PHILADELPHIA -- The Braves created reason for concern as they played mediocre baseball over much of the past six weeks. But while righting themselves during the final days leading up to the All-Star break, they have provided reason to approach the season's second half with optimism.
Some of the recent excitement surrounding the Braves has been due to Brian McCann, who homered in a third consecutive game and preserved Tommy Hanson's impressive start while helping the Braves claim a 6-3 win over the Phillies on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.
"We were sitting around talking today that it would be nice to come in here and play our best baseball going into the break," McCann said. "This is really the first time we've had our regulars in there for an extended period of time. When we do we are able to come back. If we get down, we don't feel like we can't come back at any point."
After Hanson endured a rocky three-run second inning, the Braves constructed a two-run fourth inning that ended up notching a loss for Joe Blanton. McCann delivered a game-tying single in the frame, and Andrelton Simmons produced a go-ahead sacrifice fly that was overshadowed by the many contributions the rookie shortstop made with his glove.
Simmons' finest defensive contribution came when he slid behind second base on his knees and then rose to his feet before firing a strike that denied Chase Utley a single in the sixth inning. His quick reaction denied Juan Pierre an infield hit on a fourth-inning chopper, and he also started nifty double plays in both the seventh and eighth innings.
"He's really unbelievable," Hanson said. "I would say there were at least three hits that most of the time are hits and he took them away. He's unbelievable behind me and I love having him back there."
While winning the first two games of this series, the Braves have added to the last-place Phillies' woes and distanced themselves from the frustration that grew as they split the 10-game homestand that concluded on Thursday.
Despite winning just 19 of their past 42 games, the Braves will enter the final game before the All-Star break trailing the first-place Nationals by five games in the National League East. Meanwhile, the Phillies sit 14 games back in a race that they have won each of the past five years.
"Over the past four of five years, they have beaten us up a little bit," McCann said. "So it is good to come in here before the break and do some good things."
McCann's two-out home run in the second inning served as just one of the many offensive highlights produced by the Braves. Hours after learning he had gained an All-Star selection, Michael Bourn constructed his Major League-best 14th three-hit game and scored two runs.
Blanton, who needed 88 pitches to toss a three-hit shutout against the Braves on May 3, allowed three consecutive singles to Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman and McCann in the decisive two-run fourth inning.
With six hits in his past 14 at-bats, McCann has regained some of the confidence he lost as the season's first half has elapsed. He had recorded just six hits in his previous 41 at-bats entering this span.
"McCann has been feeling good for a while now," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's good to see him swinging it like this."
Hanson found a unique way to allow three runs and six hits in seven innings. Still, the effort allows him to enter the All-Star break with 10 wins for a second straight season.
Hanson proved perfect in five of his seven-plus innings, and faced the minimum in each of his final five full frames. But in between, he struggled through a three-run second inning that ended with McCann denying Jimmy Rollins' attempt to steal second base.
"That's been what I've had to do my last few starts, try to keep that big inning small," Hanson said. "I just had to try to battle through that. Luckily I got out of it with [McCann] throwing out Rollins. From there on, I felt good about my stuff and felt more locked in after that inning."
After being provided an early one-run lead courtesy of McCann's homer, Hanson allowed Carlos Ruiz to start the bottom half of the inning with a double that hit off the top of the left-center-field wall. Hunter Pence followed with a single before Ruiz was thrown out attempting to score on Placido Polanco's grounder.
But just when it seemed like Hanson might have righted himself, Juan Pierre hit a double over a drawn-in Jason Heyward's head. Pierre's 11th extra-base hit of the season might have been trumped in the rarity department by the one-out RBI single produced by Blanton, who has recorded both of his hits this season against the Braves.
"You just need to keep making pitches," Hanson said. "You can't really look at it like I gave up three runs in two innings. If you do, it's going to be a bad day. I knew I had good stuff. I was just trying to get my command going. Once I did that, I started getting the results that I needed."
After the second inning, the Phillies did not produce another baserunner until Pence opened the seventh with a single. Pence was immediately erased from the basepaths courtesy of the first of the two key double plays started by Simmons.
"I knew from the bullpen to pitch one that [Hanson] had it tonight," McCann said. "He just had to weather the storm there in the second. He had his 'A' game tonight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.