Braves vs. Phillies Preview: Atlanta Wraps Up First Half Against NL East Rivals

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 5: Dan Uggla #26 of the Atlanta Braves attempts to throw out a runner against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on July 5, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

TIm Hudson takes the mound in the series opener on Friday night.

Braves Country likely circled this series between the Bravos and Philadelphia Phillies as a can't-miss series that would wrap up the first half of the season with a bang. Most felt these two clubs would be 1A and 1B in the National League East at this point, but that has been far from the case.

While the Braves are relatively close to expectations at 43-39, the Phillies have been torn apart by injuries. They sit at 37-47, 13 games back of the young Nationals in the division.

Philly was without Chase Utley for the first three months of the season, but the veteran second baseman has since returned in recent weeks. He's currently hitting .273/.304/.545. Ryan Howard is also expected to return this weekend after rupturing his Achilles last October, although no one is really sure how limited he'll be as he continues to undergo rehab before and after games.

As for the Phillies who have been healthy in 2012, Carlos Ruiz might just be the best player in baseball that no one talks about. Not only is he a tremendous catcher behind the plate, but he's hitting .357 with an absurd OPS of 1.017. Hunter Pence continues to be a big contributor in the middle of the order, batting to the tune of a .364 wOBA.

Jimmy Rollins (.707 OPS), Shane Victorino (.690) and Placido Polanco (.663) have all been pretty bad at the plate this year, although their defense remains strong.

This Phillies team has some well-known players on the roster, but they're simply getting too old. Following a crushing loss to the Mets in the 9th inning on Thursday, many are starting to wonder if they'll begin to sell in the coming weeks.

Start Times & Pitching Matchups:

Friday, 7:05 ET - Tim Hudson vs. Kyle Kendrick

Saturday, 7:15 ET - Tommy Hanson vs. Joe Blanton

Sunday, 1:35 ET - Jair Jurrjens vs. Vance Worley

For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop.

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