Coming into the weekend series against the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves had won just two of the teams first six games over the course of the first homestand at Turner Field.
With a 10-game swing in California looming, the Braves and Brave faithful alike, knew the team needed to reel off a few victories before heading west.
And the Braves did, after Friday’s rainout that is, sweeping Saturday's doubleheader, 4-2 and 4-0, before losing the series finale, 3-2.
Game 1 brought a display of power Atlanta (7-9) has been waiting to return, as Chipper Jones, Alex Gonzalez and rookie Freddie Freeman each hit home runs.
The downside: each of the home runs were solo shots.
The upside: three of the four were hit with two outs, and the other, Gonzalez’s second, led off an inning.
That proved to be more than enough for Derek Lowe, who continued to shut down opposing lineups.
The veteran sinkerballer gave up two runs on five hits, striking out four and walking two over 6 innings and 99 pitches before giving way to the bullpen. Three relievers combined for the 7th and 8th innings before rookie Craig Kimbrel needed a 21-pitch 9th inning to nail down his fourth save of the year.
Game 2 provided an eye-opener for a lot of doubters, as Jair Jurrjens, fresh off the disabled list, carved through the New York (5-11) lineup, scattering two hits over 7 innings on 100 pitches. The Curacao-native struck out four and walked one.
For a lot of Atlanta faithful, this was a sight for sore eyes, as JJ struggled with injuries last year after a stellar 2009, where the righty posted a record of 14-10 and a 2.60 E.R.A in 34 starts.
But if his first start of 2011 provided any relief, it was that he has not lost any bite on his off-speed pitches, and is not afraid to pitch to any opposing hitter.
As JJ was shutting down the Met lineup, the Braves were jumping on New York starter Mike Pelfrey for 11 hits, chasing the righty after 5 innings.
With the Braves belting four home runs in the first game, 10 of the 11 hits in game 2 were singles.
It started in the first, with two outs after consecutive singles from Chipper, Eric Hinske and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s single brought Chipper around, which proved to be the winning run.
In the third, Chipper’s second single in as many at bats brought Martin Prado around after hitting the lone extra-base hit for the Braves. Hinske and David Ross provided the other two RBI singles.
With the sweep of the doubleheader, the Braves sealed the first series victory of the season since taking two of three from Washington to open the season.
Even with the series victory in hand, Atlanta still had one game left against the Mets before leaving for Los Angeles.
New York took the upper hand early, jumping on starter Tommy Hanson for two first inning runs before the righty settled down, allowing one run and four hits in his next four innings.
Down 2-0 early, the Braves did not give in, as Freeman’s RBI single in the second scored Uggla to put Atlanta down one.
But Jose Reyes, who had gone 1-8 Saturday, scored the decisive run after singling to center. Reyes came around on Josh Thole’s single after stealing second.
Jason Heyward’s eighth inning blast pulled the Braves closer once again, but closer Frankie Rodriguez escaped a jam in the ninth to steal the victory for the Mets after striking out Brooks Conrad with Chipper standing 90-feet from home.
After 16 games, the Braves head west, starting with a four-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers (7-9) Monday night.
The Dodgers come into the series fresh off a 2-1 victory over St. Louis after losing 5 straight.
This is a slightly-different L.A. team than in years past.
No longer is Joe Torre in charge, as Don Mattingly took command before the 2010 season was over.
No longer is Russell Martin the backstop, as he had been since 2006. Rod Barajas took that post, and Martin is now employed by the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers added Juan Uribe from San Francisco, Aaron Miles from St. Louis and Tony Gwynn, Jr. from San Diego.
Even with all of that, the Dodgers still bring a lineup possessing Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake, all capable of inflicting damage at any point over the next four games.
But if there is a troublesome spot the Atlanta offense can take advantage of, it’s the pitching staff. Through 16 games, L.A. pitchers had a collective E.R.A. of 4.72, 12th in the NL. Atlanta sits atop the senior circuit at 3.09.
Even with that, the Braves head into Chavez Ravine knowing that the L.A. offense can appear at any time, as seen in recent years.
Keys to the series for Atlanta:
- Be aggressive at the plate
- The offense sits at 14th in the NL with a .230 batting average, but has shown positive strides over the past few days.
- Shut down L.A.’s feast-or-famine offense
- The Braves send Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Derek Lowe and JJ over the course of the series, and each of the Atlanta pitchers can flourish under the bright lights of Dodger Stadium
- Get to the pitching staff
- Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw have all pitched well against the Braves in years past, but if rattled, this Dodger staff can implode.
As early as it is in the season, this is the first of two ten-game trips for the Braves, and gaining momentum on the road, regardless of the month, can do wonders come September.
Notes: Since 2002, the Braves have tied two season series against the Dodgers and lost one...2000 NL Rookie of the Year and former Brave Rafael Furcal is on the DL with a broken left thumb until late May.. L.A. was outscored 30-10 against the Cardinals..Kuroda threw a one-hitter against the Braves July 7, 2008..Jon Garland, Wednesday’s starter, gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in four innings against St. Louis Friday...This is not the lone West Coast trip for the Braves. They return in May for an interleague series against the Angels and come back for a six-game swing with San Diego and Seattle in June.