PHILADELPHIA --- Leading the division for all but one day this season means little to the Philadelphia Phillies at this point.
They're well aware the standings only matter after 162 games.
Still, this weekend's showdown with the Atlanta Braves is important for both teams. The Phillies are 2 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East entering their three-game series at Citizens Bank Park, and they'd like to head into the All-Star break with more breathing room.
"This is a big series," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've just got to go in there and play like we've been playing."
The Phillies have their three All-Star starters lined up to face Atlanta. Roy Halladay (11-3), Cliff Lee (9-6) and Cole Hamels (10-4) will pitch in that order.
The Braves, on the other hand, won't have two of their top three starters. Ace Jair Jurrjens (12-3) and Tim Hudson (8-6) both pitched during Atlanta's four-game sweep of Colorado. Instead, Brandon Beachy (3-1) goes against Halladay tonight, Tommy Hanson (10-4) starts Saturday and Derek Lowe (5-6) takes the mound Sunday.
"I like competing against the best and they're pretty darn good," Beachy said. "It's a challenge."
The Phillies have the best record in the majors at 55-33, but the Braves (53-36) are determined to stand in the way of a fifth consecutive division title.
Last year, the Braves led the Phillies by 4 1/2 games at the break. But Philadelphia went 39-19 the rest of the way and finished six games ahead. Atlanta made the postseason as the wild-card entry.
That's why Manuel understands it's too early to get caught up in the standings.
"The season's not over. If you think that, it can backfire on you," he said. "... We've been winning some games and we have a good record, but the Braves are right there with us. We ain't done nothing yet, really."