PHILADELPHIA -- Thoughts of Tommy Hanson potentially making a start in the postseason seemed to evaporate at least a month ago. Now, as the Braves fight to secure a playoff spot, there is reason to wonder if they have enough cushion to keep Hanson in the rotation for the remainder of the regular season.
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.
Along with allowing back-to-back home runs to Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz in the fourth inning, Hanson issued a four-pitch walk to Phillies starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick in the fifth inning. It was one of those nights that have become far too familiar for Hanson, who has compiled a 5.87 ERA in his past 11 starts and completed at least six innings just once during this span.
"I feel like I'm battling my [butt] off to help my teammates out and help my team win," Hanson said. "As of right now, I'm not doing a very good job. Today was a [bad] day. I'm not pulling my weight around here right now."
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 surrounded him when he came to the Majors as the game's top pitching prospect just three years ago.
With the Braves still owning a six-game lead over the second-place Cardinals and a 7 1/2-game cushion to secure one of the National League's two available Wild Card spots, they might be able to afford to give Hanson the one or two more starts he could get in the regular season.
But if they were to get in a position where they must win games to secure home-field advantage in the Wild Card race or possibly move closer to the top of the National League East standings, they might have to think about piggybacking some combination of Ben Sheets, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. None of them have started in a game for at least three weeks.
When asked about this possibility, Gonzalez was non-committal.
"We'll see where we're at," Gonzalez said. "He's one of our guys, so why not? Let him start. We'll see where we're at. We'll take it game by game. We've got six days until we get back to that spot. So we'll see where we're at."
The Braves need to be near perfect to have any hopes of erasing the 5 1/2-game lead the Nationals own in the NL East.
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.
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.
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.
"That didn't even cross my mind," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We haven't lost the division yet. So that's what we're fighting for. We were just a step behind tonight."
While Hanson struggled, Kendrick added to the success he has had during his career against the Braves. Using more changeups than he has in the past against the Braves, the Phillies right-hander allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Dan Uggla's doubles in the second and seventh innings helped account for both of Atlanta's runs.
Kendrick is now 6-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 13 career starts against the Braves.
"I don't think it's anything," Kendrick said. "I've faced them a lot. They've seen me. I've seen them a lot. I think I know their strengths and weaknesses. I don't know. It's just one of those things."
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 within a span of three pitches. Utley added a solo shot in the eighth off Luis Avilan.
"I just think a couple of those pitches got too much of the plate," Hanson said. "They didn't just hit in the gap or hit it hard for a single. They hit it in the seats for the most part."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.