After dropping two of three to the Mets over the weekend in New York, the Braves headed south to Florida for Fredi Gonzalez and Dan Uggla's return to the place they each called home before the start of the 2011 season. 

 

The Marlins came in just as cold, losers of five in a row and looking to do something positive with Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez both on the disabled list. 

 

But the Braves took advantage of the Marlins woes, starting in Tuesday's opener and not letting up until the final out of Thursday's finale. 

 

Tommy Hanson and Brad Hand, a recent callup from the Marlins AA-Jacksonville team, were locked in a pitchers duel in Tuesday's contest, as Hanson shut down the Marlins slumping offense. 

 

As highlighted as his recent struggles have been, Alex Gonzalez put the Braves on the board, leading off the 4th inning with a home run to left, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead. 

 

Hanson finished 6 innings, allowing 2 hits and no runs while walking 5 and striking out 6 before handing the ball over the the Braves bullpen. 

 

With a one run lead, the game was set up perfectly for Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. 

 

O'Flaherty played with a little fire, giving up a leadoff single and walking a batter with two outs before getting former Brave Omar Infante to pop out, ending the threat. 

 

Venters allowed a one out single before striking out Mike Stanton to end the inning, giving Kimbrel a shot at yet another save. 

 

Kimbrel got the first two outs rather quickly before walking Scott Cousins. Not deterred from the task at hand, the young closer got Chris Coghlan to line out to Gonzalez to end the game, earning his 18th save and giving Hanson his 7th victory on the year. 

 

Hand limited the Braves offense very efficiently, limiting them to one run on one hit, striking out 6 and walking one through 6 innings, but it was not enough for his first MLB start. 

 

In Wednesday's meeting, the Braves got on the board quickly, as Jordan Schafer led off with a single and stole second before scoring on Brian McCann's two-out single. 

 

The Braves struck again in the 5th, this time with Schafer tripling with two outs, bringing Gonzalez up. Gonzalez, who has had his fair share of struggles with two outs and runners in scoring position, came through, singling to center and bringing Schafer home for a 2-0 lead. 

 

But the Braves didn't need much to support Derek Lowe, as he had a no-hitter going through 6 innings before allowing two consecutive one-out hits, ending his bid at the no-hitter. 

 

After allowing those two hits and walking John Buck to load the bases, Fredi Gonzalez went to the bullpen, bringing in O'Flaherty to shut the Marlins down. 

 

O'Flaherty did not disappoint, striking out Mike Stanton to end the threat and preserving Lowe's chance to snag the win. 

 

After Venters worked the 8th, hitting a batter before ending the inning, Kimbrel came in looking for his 19th save. 

 

But this night, he was not so fortunate. 

 

After striking out the first two batters, Kimbrel ran into a little trouble, walking Logan Morrison before Buck's double to right center put runners at second and third with two outs. 

 

After getting struck out to end the threat in the 7th, Stanton was given another chance, and he made his mark, singling to right and bringing both runners home, tying the game at 2, as Kimbrel blew the save and gave Lowe another no decision. Kimbrel struck out the final batter to send the game into extra innings.

 

It did not take long for the Braves to get back on top, this time against former Brave Mike Dunn, as a walk to Chipper and a McCann single with one out brought up Freddie Freeman. 

 

Freeman singled back up the middle, scoring a hustling Chipper and giving the Braves the 3-2 lead before Dan Uggla and Joe Mather struck out to end the inning. 

 

With the back end of his bullpen already used up, Gonzalez used Scott Proctor, George Sherrill and Scot Linebrink for each out in the 10th. 

 

Proctor started the inning, getting the first out before allowing a double and a walk, forcing Fredi to bring in Sherrill. The lefty got Greg Dobbs to strike out swining before Linebrink came in to strike out Gaby Sanchez, earning his first save since July 3, 2009. 

 

Kimbrel got the win, evening his record at 2-2, but this day started as Lowe's. The veteran righty allowed two hits and walked two while striking out 5. 

 

In the finale, Jair Jurrjens took the mound, looking to bounce back from Saturday's loss at the hands of the Mets. 

 

Both JJ and Marlins starter Chris Volstad kept the opposing offenses at bay until the Braves struck in the 6th. 

 

After Matt Young reached on an infield single, Gonzalez came up to the plate with two outs, and surprisinly enough, came through, doubling to left and bringing Young home for the first run of the game. 

 

The Braves tacked on two more in the 7th when Freeman scored on a wild pitch before JJ's single drove in Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 3-0 lead. 

 

With his 11th consecutive quality start to begin to season already in the books, JJ went out for the 7th inning, looking to hand the bullpen a 3-run lead. 

 

The Marlins broke through this inning, scoring two before JJ got another former Brave, Wes Helms to fly to right, ending the inning. 

 

Needing 6 outs to preserve the victory and earn the sweep, Gonzalez send O'Flaherty to the mound for the 8th inning instead of Venters.

 

After getting the first out, O'Flaherty gave up a double and hit a batter, putting runners on first and second with one out. 

 

But the lefty got out of the jam, getting Dobbs to weakly ground out, setting the path for, surprisinly enough, Venters, to work the 9th inning. 

 

Venters did not run into any trouble this time, getting the Marlins 1-2-3, ending the game and sweeping the series, handing the Marlins their 8th straight loss. 

 

In his 7 innings of work, JJ allowed two runs on six hits, striking out two and not allowing a walk. For Venters, it was his second save of the season. 

 

After the Phillies lost to the Cubs Thursday night, the Braves now sit two games behind their NL East rivals atop the division. 

 

Now 4-2 on the 10-game trek, the Braves head west to Houston where they have a four-game set with the Astros beginning tonight. 

 

Looking for the first four-game winning streak of the season, the Braves send Tim Hudson to the mound tonight, looking to bounce back from his rocky start against the Mets Sunday night. The Astros will send Aneury Rodriguez to the mound, looking to get the Astros back on a winning track. 

 

The Astros have lost 5 of 7, including 2 of 3 to the Cardinals and 3 of 4 to the Padres. 

 

Hudson took the loss against the Mets, allowing 5 runs on 7 hits in 4 innings in the Braves 6-4 loss. Rodriguez took the loss in his last start as well, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits through 6 innings against the Padres. 

 

In Saturday's meeting, the Braves send Mike Minor to the mound opposite Jordan Lyles. Minor last pitched May 31 against the Padres, allowing 3 runs on 8 hits through 6 innings, taking the loss, his third of the year. Lyles lasted just 4 innings in his start against the Padres, giving up 4 runs on 5 hits in the second start of his career. 

 

Sunday afternoon will feature Brett Myers against Hanson. Myers allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in his last start against the Cardinals. He took the loss in his May 16 start against the Braves, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits. 

 

In Monday's finale, the Braves send Lowe back to the mound opposite Wandy Rodriguez. Last time the Braves saw Rodriguez, he threw 8 innings of 5-hit ball before handing the ball to the Astro bullpen. That night saw Brian McCann come off the bench and hit a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th, giving Rodriguez a no-decision. 

 

While the Braves rank near the bottom of the league in runs (24th), batting average (24th), on base percentage (24th) and slugging percentage (21st), the Astros are much better offensively. They rank 16th in runs, 8th in batting average, 16th in slugging and 17th in on base. 

 

But this series cannot come down to how each team has fared so far in the season, it will come down to who gets hotter at the right moment, and right now, the Braves are hotter than the Astros. 

 

Keys to the series:

  • Shut down the Astros offense

Powered by Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, not to mention the speedy Michael Bourn, theBraves pitching will have its hands full with the Astros bats. 

  • Continue to manufacture runs
As seen in Florida, the Braves got only one run via the home run, Gonzalez's shot in thefirst game. With Schafer at the top of the lineup, his ability to get on base and stealsecond can give the Braves offense a great spark, as it has at times since his callup. 
  • Take the series game by game
True, the Braves sit two games behind the Phillies for the NL East lead, but the season is not yet at its halfway point, and the Braves still have Jason Heyward out with a sore shoulder and Uggla still has yet to come out of his slump. As long as the Braves can continue what has been successful, everything else will fall into place

 

 

Notes: Prado did not play in the final two games of the series with a sore knee..