Maybe it's deference. (After all, he did spend his last two years covering the Phillies.) Maybe it's deflection. (If it went down this way, I can't imagine Braves players would be all that receptive of his questions in each of their three blowout losses...at home...on consecutive days...after he popped off at the mouth on the eve of the series.)

Whatever the case, Kevin McAlpin, Braves beat reporter for 680 The Fan in Atlanta, in a Tuesday radio hit with Mike Gill of 97.3 ESPN-FM, gave daps where they were due, to the reigning division champs five times over. That's right. To your 11-12, 2012 Phillies. Go figure.

Said McAlpin: "Everyone knows the division still runs through Philadelphia. Everyone knows that the Phillies aren't going away, this is a great ball club and that they've fallen on some hard times here early.

"I think, to a man, everybody in this clubhouse still knows that the team to beat in this division is still Philadelphia"

But McAlpin didn't play cheerleader -- for either side. He went on to say some while later that, if he had to tell you now (which, per a Mike Gill question, he did), he'd still give the nod to the Braves as the top-to-bottom better team. (Though even that didn't come without a conditional.)

Said McAlpin: "I think right now, yes (the Braves are the better team).

"Ask me in July or August and we might have a different conversation.

"I just think the way this offense is gelling, you know, you look at the offensive numbers for the two ball clubs, they brought in a new hitting coach this year, the Braves, they're really buying into, Greg Walker's done a phenomenal job, getting these guys to work harder. The pitching's been great, the back of the bullpen has been solid. So, I think, top-to-bottom, if you had to ask me right now, I would say the Braves are a better ball club than the Phillies.

"But again, I'm sure we'll talk between now and September and that story might change."

Chapter one set for tonight, with Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.73 ERA) and Brandon Beachy (2-1, 1.05 ERA) going, in the first of three games in consecutive days that will pit Roy Halladay (3-2, 1.95) and Tommy Hanson (3-2, 3.00) and Joe Blanton (2-3, 3.81) and Randall Delgado (2-2, 6.30 ERA). Yeah. Talk about running into a wall if you're the Phillies offense, which is moving at about whatever speed a six-year-old can clock on a Big Wheel. (Assuming six-year-olds still have, and use, Big Wheels.)

Though, who knows? Maybe the Phils have a surprise in store.

(This article was written by Matt Hammond, you can follow him at matthammond89@gmail.com)