Heading into the midweek series with the Padres, the Braves had just taken two of three from a struggling Cincinnati, proving that any team, regardless of pitching depth or offensive power can endure tough times.
With the Padres ranking at the bottom the majors in most offensive categories, the Braves were looking to continue to build momentum before ending their 6-game homestand.
But the Padres stole the first win, taking Monday’s opener, 3-2, after Kyle Phillips hit the first home run of his MLB career in the top of the 10th inning off George Sherrill, propelling the Padres to their third consecutive victory, thus giving the Braves their 10th loss of the month.
After getting a little rest after his May 20 outing, Tim Hudson got the start and pitched 6 innings of 5-hit ball, giving up 2 runs (one earned), putting the dismal third inning in Anaheim that Friday night behind him. Hudson struck out 7 and walked none, alleviating any concerns about his control that night.
Remaining on his hot streak, Brian McCann doubled in the bottom of the 1st, driving in Martin Prado and tying the game at 1.
In the 3rd, down 2-1 this time, McCann again drove Prado in, this time with a single. The RBI’s were McCann’s 28th and 29th of the year.
Both bullpens shut the opposition down until Phillips drilled Sherrill’s offering to right field, giving the Padres the 3-2 lead before closer Heath Bell worked the bottom of the 10th for his 13th save.
In Tuesday’s middle game, the Braves sent Mike Minor to the mound, looking to notch his first win of the year.
After 6 strong innings where he gave up just two runs, Minor was sent back out for the 7th inning, looking to keep the Padres at bay one more inning to give the Braves bats time to awaken.
But after giving up a leadoff walk, Minor was pulled for Cory Gearrin. Gearrin, who has split time between AAA-Gwinnett and Atlanta, was unable to escape the inning unscathed.
Gearrin gave up 4 hits in 5 at bats, allowing the Padres to score 3 runs before Sherrill came in to nail down the third out.
Down 5-2, the Braves did not roll over.
A single off the bat of Chipper Jones scored Diory Hernandez, bringing the Braves within 2 runs (5-3).
In the bottom of the 9th, the Padres sent Bell back to the mound, looking to notch his 14th save of the year. After getting Joe Mather to foul out, Jordan Schafer walked, giving the Braves a chance to tie the game.
But Prado flied out to right, bringing Chipper back up, this time with a chance to tie the game up with his bat. After Schafer stole second, Chipper’s single to left brought him around, bringing the Braves within one run (5-4), but it was all Bell allowed.
The husky closer got McCann to pop out to the shortstop, ending the rally and the game.
After losing the first two games in disheartening fashion, the Braves took the field Wednesday looking to avoid a sweep.
The Braves gave Tommy Hanson some much-needed run support, putting 2 runs on the board in the bottom of the 1st, as McCann’s single drove Prado home and Freeman’s single scored Chipper. The Braves had 5 consecutive hits in the first inning.
The Padres tied the game in the top of the 2nd, but the Braves struck back in the bottom of the 3rd.
Attempting to check his swing, Freeman made contact, and the ball hugged the left field line, rolling far enough for McCann to score from 2nd after a double of his own, giving Freeman his 12th double of the year.
The Braves added a little insurance, this time off the bat of Prado, as he connected for his 8th home run in the 6th inning, sending the ball into the left field seats.
Eric O’Flaherty gave up a run in the top of the 7th, but the Braves bullpen was brilliant after that, as Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel worked the 8th and 9th innings, with Kimbrel earning his 16th save on the year.
With a day off, the Braves travel to New York, where they take on the struggling Mets.
Friday, the Braves send Derek Lowe to the mound opposite John Niese.
In his last start, Lowe lasted 3 1/3 innings against the Reds, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits. The Braves won that game, but well after Lowe’s day was done.
Niese held the Phillies to one-hit in his last start, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing 0 runs, striking out 6 and walking 4.
Saturday, Jair Jurrjens and Dillon Gee take the mound for their respective clubs, as both are looking to improve their records.
JJ comes in at 7-1 with the lowest ERA in MLB (1.51). In his last outing, JJ limited the Reds to 1 run and 6 hits over 8 innings as the Braves won that night, 2-1. The righty struck out 5 and walked 2.
Gee comes in at 5-0. In his last start against the Pirates, Gee lasted 7 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 8 and not allowing a walk.
In Sunday’s finale and the ESPN Game of the Week (for the second consecutive Sunday), the Braves send Tim Hudson to the mound opposite R.A. Dickey.
Hudson will be looking to continue what he did against the Padres: maintain his control and show that he can be a dominant pitcher, as he always has been.
In his last start, Dickey took the loss against the Pirates, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits. But even in the loss, Dickey struck out 10 Pirate batters.
Even while the Mets are struggling, the Braves cannot take them easily, as the Mets have proven to play tougher with the Braves in town.
Keys to the series
- Shut their offense down
- With an offense that ranks 12th in MLB, the Mets have game-changing players in Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay and Daniel Murphy. Keeping these batters guessing and keeping the speedy Reyes or Beltran off the bases will give the Braves a better chance to win
- Make their pitchers work
- The Mets staff ranks 23rd in MLB in total pitching, and working the counts and raising their pitch total will only prove crucial for the Braves offense.
- Get June off to a strong start
- The Braves started May off hot, going 12-4 in the first 16 games before cooling down and finishing 17-11. Even though June began with a Braves ‘W’, the team knows that the season only gets tougher from here on out.
Notes: Dan Uggla was replaced with Brooks Conrad for Tuesday's game, and was dropped to 7th in the order Wednesday in hopes that his bat will awaken.