As the Braves began the final home stand of the first half, they entered in impressive fashion, taking two of three from the visiting Orioles after a sweep of the Mariners before playing host to the Colorado Rockies.
With the Rockies and Braves matching up for four games beginning July 4, the feeling was this could possibly be a playoff preview, if the Rockies make a run at the NL West.
But when all the dust settled, the Braves swept through the Rockies behind stout pitching, hitting and defense. Note: Dan Uggla came into the series hitting .175.
It began in game 1 Monday with Tommy Hanson taking on Ubaldo Jimenez.
After Hanson shut the Rockies down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Freddie Freeman came up with two outs and Brian McCann on first and drove Jimenez’s offering into the seats in left center field, giving the Braves, and Hanson, a 2-0 lead.
The Rockies inched closer in the fourth, getting a run back before the Braves offense extended the lead.
After McCann led off the 6th with a single, Jason Heyward’s double brought McCann around, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
That was all the run support Hanson needed, as he went 7 innings, giving up 4 hits and the lone run while fanning 6. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel worked scoreless eighth and ninth innings, as Kimbrel earned his 25th save on the season.
Freeman added another run in the eighth with another home run, this time a solo shot. This was not the last time the Rockies pitching staff was thumped by Freeman this series.
--Uggla went 0-for-3 with a walk in game 1, lowering his average to .173.
In game 2, the Braves got out to an early advantage behind Derek Lowe, once again thanks in large part to Freeman.
Freeman took Jhoulys Chacin deep into center field, his third home run in two days, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.
The offense was not done there.
After Chacin walked Uggla and Nate McLouth to load the bases, Lowe came up and helped himself, smacking a bases-clearning double to left and giving himself, and the club, a 4-0 advantage.
The Rockies added two in the 5th and another in the 6th, but Dan Uggla came up and pulverized Eric Stults’ offering, sending it 477 feet into left field for a 5-3 lead.
While Lowe’s day was done after 5 1/3 innings, the bullpen shut the Rockies down, going the final 3 2/3 innings and allowing 4 hits and no runs. Lowe finished giving up 5 hits and 3 runs while striking out 4 and walking 3. Kimbrel worked the ninth for his 26th save, just after Venters and O’Flaherty pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings.
-- Uggla went 2-for-2 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored, raising his average to .178.
Game three featured Jair Jurrjens, one of the best young pitchers in MLB, against Aaron Cook.
As Jurrjens got through the top of the Rockies order relatively quickly (1-2-3), Cook had nothing but trouble from the start.
Jordan Schafer got the offense going with a leadoff triple before Alex Gonzalez’s single scored the first run. A double off the bat of McCann scored Gonzalez, giving the Braves a two-run lead before Eric Hinske singled to score McCann, putting the Braves up 3-0.
That was all Jurrjens needed, even if he was shaky at times. The probable starter for the National League in the 2011 All-Star Game, Jurrjens went 6 innings, giving up 5 hits and one run while fanning just two. Jurrjens lowered his ERA to 1.87 with the victory, his 12th of the year.
By the time Jurrjens day was over, he was staked to a 7-1 lead.
In the bottom of the third, Chipper Jones hit an opposite field home run, scoring McCann and putting the Braves up 5-0. The Rockies scored their run in the top of the 5th before the Braves extended the lead.
After Cook loaded the bases, Heyward grounded into a double play, but the run scored, giving the Braves a six-run lead before Schafer’s single scored Uggla, giving Atlanta a 7-1 lead.
Even as it scored 7 runs, the offense was not finished, as Uggla hit his second home run in as many days, this time a two-run homer that gave the Braves a 9-1 advantage.
Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill and Scott Proctor each worked scoreless innings to close out innings 7-8-9.
-- Uggla went 2-for-3 with 2 runs and 2 RBI’s, raising his average five points, to .183.
With a chance at a sweep, the Braves sent Tim Hudson to the mound, looking to close out the Rockies and head into Philadelphia with a head full of steam.
Hudson got into a little trouble, giving up a run in the first and another in the third before the Braves bats were sparked.
As heard earlier in the day on the Braves Radio Network, the second time around the lineup on Rockie starter Juan Nicasio would prove beneficial for the Braves, and they showed why.
While it began in the 2nd as Nicasio walked the bases loaded before getting Hudson to strike out, the Braves did not waste much time.
They strung together six consecutive hits, starting with Schafer’s ground rule double. Singles by Gonzalez and Chipper, a three-run homer off the bat of Freeman, an Uggla double and a Heyward double scored five runs before Nicasio recorded an out. Nicasio got the first out before Eric Stults took the ball, getting the final out of the third. It was Freeman’s fourth homer in four games, as he did not hit one in Wednesday’s win.
After that, Hudson was in control, given a 5-2 lead he did not foolishly give away. The veteran pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3. He gave way to O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel, as Kimbrel notched his 27th save on the season, notching the rookie record for most saves before the All-Star Break.
Heyward got the pitching staff a little insurance, crushing a Stults offering into right center for a 6-2 lead. The Rockies picked up another run before being shut down.
-- Uggla went 1-for-4, keeping his average at .183. After watching his average drop to .173, Uggla raised it 10 points over the next two games.
Now for the Braves, it is off to Philadelphia for a three-game set with the NL East leading Phillies. When play began Friday, the Braves sat 2 1/2 games back.
Notes: The Rockies were without Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton for most of the series (Helton was out game 4, CarGo and Tulo out all 4)... Martin Prado began a Minor League rehab assignment Wednesday in Gwinnett.. Freeman and Heyward homered during the same game for the first time Thursday.. The Braves are 23-10 since June 1