Braves vs. Phillies Preview: No Chase Utley, No Ryan Howard, No Problem?

Apr 30, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) celebrates getting the last out of the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Cubs 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Two rivals in the NL East meet in Atlanta this week.

The Philadelphia Phillies find themselves at 11-12 thus far this season, a mark that was probably to be expected given their injuries. Ryan Howard is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Chase Utley is still nursing a sore entire body, and Cliff Lee is on the disabled list with an oblique injury.

This was a team with little room for error should they hope to win their seventh consecutive division title, and as we've all seen in the month of April, they will need to get these guys back healthy if they hope to contend throughout the summer months.

The Phillies are basically the same team as last season, with only a few notable exceptions. Jonathan Papelbon now handles their ninth inning duties following the departure of Ryan Madson. Raul Ibanez, who seemingly always killed the Braves whenever the two clubs met, left to become the DH for the Yankees. Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis now handle the right side of the infield while Howard and Utley are out.

Carlos Ruiz continues to be stellar behind the plate and is off to a strong start with the bat, posting an OPS of .858 so far. Shane Victorino leads the team in steals (seven) and homers (four), but he's been pretty mediocre other than that with an OPS of .671. Placido Polanco, who has been a personal favorite of mine over the years, is now 36 years old and isn't hitting a lick. His on-base and slugging percentages are both below .300; that isn't good.

Even with their offensive struggles, the Phillies can still rely on their starting pitching to carry them. Atlanta catches a break by missing Cliff Lee, but they'll get the challenge of facing both Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. The key will be getting those two out of the game early to get into their bullpen, but again, hardly a simple task when facing two pitchers of this caliber.

Pitching Matchups & Start Times:

Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. - Brandon Beachy vs. Cole Hamels

Wednesday, 7:10 p.m. - Tommy Hanson vs. Roy Halladay

Thursday, 12:10 p.m. - Randall Delgado vs. Joe Blanton

Get ready for a great series, folks. Two of the three pitching matchups are stellar, and, well, let's hope for a ton of runs on Thursday afternoon.

Also, breaking news: Jonathan Papelbon makes funny faces.

For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop. Phillies fans should visit The Good Phight.

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