What started off as a six-game stretch against two of the National League’s worst teams ended in a way befitting of a 162-game season: the Braves dropped 4 of 6.
After dropping 2 of 3 to the Padres, the Braves headed out on a 10-game trek starting in the Big Apple before heading south to Florida for 3 and Houston for 4.
In each of the three games against the Mets, the Braves fell behind, but were only able to complete the comeback in the opener before dropping the next two.
Atlanta took a 1-0 lead on Joe Mather’s infield single in the top of the 2nd in the first game, but the Mets broke through in the bottom of the 4th, stringing together 4 hits and a walk while bringing home 3 runs.
Still down 3-1 and heading into the 8th inning, the Braves had Chipper leading off. Over the years, Chipper has owned the Mets, even naming his youngest son Shea.
On the 6th pitch of the at bat, Chipper crushed Jon Niese’s offering deep into the second deck at Citi Field, measuring 412 feet.
But the inning was not over. After Dan Uggla walked, Alex Gonzalez came up with the chance to tie the game or give the Braves the lead.
A wild pitch moved Uggla to second, and Gonzalez weakly grounded toward shortstop Jose Reyes.
But Reyes did not fully stretch for the ball, and the ball trickled under his glove, scoring Uggla and tying the ballgame.
As is his norm, Jonny Venters came in to work the 8th, allowing a single before shutting the Mets down.
With Frankie Rodriguez working the 9th, not to mention the Mets recent struggles with late-inning leads recently, one could tell anything could happen.
After Matt Young flied out to start the inning, Eric Hinske gave the Braves the lead once again, clearing the wall in right.
Not done just yet, Martin Prado doubled before Brian McCann was given a free pass, bringing up Freddie Freeman.
The Southern California native, who grew up watching Rodriguez with the Angels, found the gap in left center on an 0-2 count, scoring McCann and Prado before getting thrown out trying to leg out a triple.
After allowing Angel Pagan to single with one out, Craig Kimbrel got the final two outs, ending the night getting former Brave Willie Harries to strike out swinging, earning his 17th save of the season.
Derek Lowe went 6 innings, the most painful was that 3rd inning, but otherwise, he looks as if he bounced back from his previous start against the Reds in which he lasted just 3 1/3 innings.
Lowe allowed 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 1. Venters improved his record to 4-0, lowering his ERA to 0.50.
In Saturday’s game, both squads sent a pitcher to the mound looking to improve on what has already been a strong start to the season.
For the Braves in Jair Jurrjens, the young right hander was looking for his 8th win of the season and his 10th consecutive quality start ( at least 6 IP & allowing 3 ER or less) while the Mets countered with Dillon Gee. Gee entered the game with a 5-0 mark, and after already notching a win against the Braves, he was looking to repeat the task.
Both pitchers made a quality start, taking shutouts into the 7th inning, but unfortunately for the Braves, JJ was the first, and only starter, to get tagged.
After getting the first out, an error by Gonzalez gave the Mets an extra out, and that was all they needed, scoring 5 runs in the inning (4 off JJ, 1 off reliever Scott Proctor) to take a 5-0 lead heading into the final 2 frames. JJ’s ERA rose to a 1.75.
The Mets rotation, including Gee and two relievers, shut the Braves offense down, leaving 10 runners on base and 5 in scoring position.
In Sunday’s finale, the Braves sent Tim Hudson to the mound looking to build off his most recent start where he allowed 2 runs in 6 innings to the Padres.
But Hudson was not so fortunate, allowing 2 runs in each of the first and second innings, digging a 4-0 hole before falling behind 5-0 in the 4th.
Hudson’s day was done after that, as Cristian Martinez came in, allowing the Mets to put another run on the board before the Braves offense broke through.
Hudson struck out 5 and allowed 7 hits while walking just 1.
With his knuckle-ball dancing and his fastball keeping Braves hitters off balance mostly all night, McCann led off the 7th looking to get something going.
He delivered, driving a Dickey offering 392 feet into the bullpen in right field, making it a 6-1 game.
Dickey came in to pitch the 8th before handing the ball to the Mets bullpen and former Brave Manny Acosta.
Acosta walked Prado and gave up a double to Freeman before being relieved with Rodriguez.
On a 3-1 count, Rodriguez tried to blow a fastball by pinch hitter Diory Hernandez, but Hernandez had other plans, drilling the fastball deep to left field, bringing the Braves within 2 (6-4).
That was all the Braves got, as K-Rod struck out Hinske and Joe Mather to end the game, giving the Mets the series win and sending the Braves to Florida wondering if Uggla will ever awaken from his slumber.
For Uggla and skipper Fredi Gonzalez, this will be their first trip to Miami since their final game with the organization last year. Gonzalez was fired midway through the season and Uggla was traded for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn.
In Tuesday’s opener, Hanson takes the mound for the Braves, as the Marlins will send Brad Hand to the hill for his first MLB start.
The Marlins purchased Hand's contract from Double-A Jacksonville after the young pitcher went 7-1 with a 3.53 ERA and a 44 K's and 27 walks in 63 and 2/3 innings. Hand, a lefty out of Chaska, Minn., was Minnesota's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2008.
Hanson grabbed the win in his June 1 start against the Padres, going 6 innings and allowing 2 runs on 3 hits.
Wednesday, the Braves send Lowe back to the mound, this time against Ricky Nolasco. In his last outing against the Brewers, Nolasco went 6 innings, giving up 4 runs on 7 hits while striking out 6. He did not factor in the decision and the Marlins lost, 6-5.
In the finale Thursday, JJ will look to make his 11th quality start and earn his 8th victory of the season opposite Chris Volstad. Volstad went 7 innings in his last start, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits in a 3-2 loss to the Brewers. Volstad did not factor in the decision.
But this series is about more than just pitching.
The Marlins rank 16th in total offense in MLB, while the Braves rank 21st, not a good spot for a team who added the right-handed power bat it so desperately needed in Uggla. The Braves rank 21st in runs, 22nd in batting average and 23rd in on-base percentage.
But be fearful of the bats of Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez, even while Hanley Ramirez is shelved with a back problem. Stanton has hit .308 over his last 22 gameswith 15 extra-base hits and 19 RBI's. Sanchez is hitting .352 over his last 13 games.
McCann and Freeman have been hot, and Prado has been his usual self, as has Chipper, but the rest of the Braves offense has been lethargic, appearing at the least opportune times.
If the Braves are to win this series, they must turn the page back and see what worked in May, but also turn the page and see what is truly wrong with Uggla’s approach. Maybe a little time with Terry Pendleton can do the trick, if Larry Parrish is all out of ideas.
Keys to the series
- Get the offense going
- Jordan Schafer has been inconsistent, at best, but has provided much needed speed at the top of the lineup. He and Prado need to provide that spark, and the rest of the order will fall into place.
- Continue the strong pitching
- Aside from a few innings over the weekend in New York, the Braves still rank 1st in the MLB in total pitching and still possess dominant arms in their rotation.
- Bounce back from two disappointing series’
- After losing 4 of 6 to the Padres and Mets, the Braves need to put together a few quality wins against an opponent like the Marlins. This young team has a lot of weapons all over its roster, and will test the Braves entire roster all 3 games.
Notes: All 3 games are at 7:10 EST.. Schafer left Friday’s game in the 5th inning after his bunt attempt ricocheted off his bat and nailed him between his nose and his lip...The Braves have scored 2 runs or less in 19 of 60 games.. For the 3rd time in 21 career starts, Hudson allowed at least 5 runs to the Mets.. On days Venters has pitched with 0 days rest, opposing batters are 1-for-34 (.029 AVG)..After Saturday’s loss, JJ now trails Marlins starter Josh Johnson, once again, for the MLB-low ERA. Johnson has a 1.64, as compared to JJ’s 1.75...Sunday nights game was the Braves 3rd as part of ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week. The Braves are 2-1 in those games..