ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are doing their best to give away what looked like a certain playoff berth just a few weeks ago.
Derek Lowe had another miserable outing, surrendering five runs in four-plus innings, and the Philadelphia Phillies romped to a 7-1 victory Tuesday night that left the Braves on the brink going to the final day of the regular season.
Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins homered to back a three-hit outing by Roy Oswalt (9-10), who tuned up for the playoffs with a strong performance in a largely disappointing season.
The Braves lost their fourth in a row and eighth in 11 games, sending them to the final day of the regular season assured of no more than a one-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, who were at the Houston Astros.
Atlanta had an 8½-game lead just three weeks ago, but it will be no more than one going to the final game — unless a one-game playoff against the Cardinals is needed. That would be Thursday night in St. Louis.
Lowe (9-17) has been a $15 million bust for the Braves, losing all five of his September starts and drawing the ire of Atlanta
They cheered lustily when manager Fredi Gonzalez popped out of the dugout to make a pitching change after Lowe gave up a leadoff single in the fifth, then showered boos on the high-priced right-hander as he trudged to the dugout — and straight to the showers without so much as a pause.
The NL East champion Phillies, winning their 101st game of the season, jumped ahead on the eighth pitch of the game. Lowe served up one to Utley, who drove it into center-field seats for his 11th homer.
An uneasy feeling settled over Turner Field. It would only get worse.
The Phillies extended the lead to 3-0 in the third on Rollins' run-scoring and Pence's sacrifice fly, the inning helped along by Lowe's ill-advised decision to try to get the lead runner at third on Oswalt's sacrifice. Carlos Ruiz beat the throw and everyone was safe.
The advantage grew to 4-0 in the fourth when two singles set up another sacrifice fly, this one by Placido Polanco.
Philadelphia finished off Lowe in the fifth. When Rollins led off with a single, rookie Arodys Vizcaino was summoned from the bullpen. But the youngster gave up a towering two-run homer to Pence, his 22nd, that turned the game into a full-fledged rout.
The Braves fans stopped booing long enough to cheer on the last-place Astros from afar, breaking into periodic chants of "Let's Go Houston!"
Rollins added his 16th homer in the seventh off another Braves rookie, Julio Teheran.
The top three hitters in the Phillies' lineup — Rollins, Utley and Pence — combined to go 6 for 12 with three homers, five RBIs and four runs scored. Rollins had three hits and Pence drove in three runs.
No one in the Atlanta lineup did anything until Martin Prado hit a meaningless homer off Kyle Kendrick in the ninth to keep the Braves from their second shutout in four games. They've scored only four runs in that span.
Staked to a comfortable lead, Oswalt went on cruise control. The right-hander went six innings and allowed just two runners to get as far as second base. His only real trouble came in the third when Michael Bourn singled, stole second and Prado reached as Rollins bobbled a grounder at shortstop for an error.
But Chipper Jones, who had an MRI on his ailing right knee before the game, grounded into a double play.
NOTES: The Phillies won their third in a row and improved to 11-6 against the Braves in the season series. ... RHP Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to pitch Thursday in the Florida instructional league in what the Braves are hoping will be a tuneup for the playoffs. He's been out with a bone bruise in his right knee. ... The Braves had hoped to save Tim Hudson (16-10) for the playoffs, but their No. 1 starter will have to go Wednesday with the season on the line. Joe Blanton (1-2) gets the nod for the Phillies, who are likely to rely mostly on little-used relievers in their regular-season finale.