With the first half of the 2011 season now behind them, the Braves turn their focus toward the second half and the stretch run.

One thing the Braves failed to accomplish in the first half was earning the franchise’s 10,000th victory, no small feat for any franchise, especially one that has been around since 1876, when they were known as the Boston Red Stockings.

With the second half opening tonight, the Braves return Martin Prado to the lineup after the multi-faceted player missed more than a month with a staph infection. While Prado returns, Chipper Jones is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The surgery, which was performed in Atlanta last Saturday, went well and Jones hopes to be back on the field sooner than expected.

Even with the loss of Chipper and the return of Prado, the rest of the Braves must focus on the task at hand: the visiting Washington Nationals.

Tim Hudson gets the starting nod to open the second half Friday night, and he goes up against Livan Hernandez.

Hudson has already started twice against the Nationals, going 7 innings in his first start of the year in an 11-2 Braves win April 3. In that outing, Hudson gave up one run on three hits while fanning five. The second outing did not go in Hudson’s favor, as he gave up 7 runs on 5 hits in a 7-6 Braves loss May 10. Hudson threw 7 1/3 innings in his last outing against Colorado (July 7), and the righty gave up three runs on five hits in a 6-3 Braves win.

Hernandez got to see the Braves in the season opener, but has not faced them since. In that outing, Livan went 6 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits but took the loss as the Braves won, 2-0. In his previous outing, Hernandez pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Cubs, giving up six runs on 10 hits in a 10-9 Nationals loss.

In Saturday’s contest, Tommy Hanson will toe the rubber against John Lannan, the third time these two pitchers have opposed each other in 2011.

Hanson has seen the Nationals twice, and both times, the surprising Nationals have come away victorious. In his first outing April 2, He lasted just 3 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on five hits in a 6-3 Braves loss. In his next outing, he went 5 2/3 innings, giving up a run on 5 hits before the Braves lost that May 11 contest, 7-3. Aside from the struggles against Washington, the Braves have won six consecutive games Hanson has started, including his last outing, a 7-inning performance where the righty gave up one run on four hits as he fanned 6 in a 4-1 win over the Phillies in extra innings.

In Lannan’s first outing against the Braves, he went 5 innings, giving up a run on five hits in the Nationals 6-3 win. His second outing was a little better, as he went 6 innings, giving up two runs on five hits in a 7-3 Nationals win. But Lannan was not so lucky in his last outing against Colorado, being forced to leave after a batted ball struck him in the face, leaving him with a nasal contusion. He left after 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, but struck out five before his day was cut short.

In Sunday’s finale, Jair Jurrjens gets the starting nod against a starter to be named later by Nationals manager Davey Johnson.

Jurrjens, who has not seen the Nationals yet in 2011, finished up a stellar first half going 6 innings and giving up a run on five hits in a 9-1 win over the Rockies. Before that, he pitched a complete game, one-hitter against the Orioles, a 4-0 Braves win.

Keys to the series:

  1. Start the second half off strong
    1. The Braves had all the pieces in place to begin the second half in first place, but were unable to come away in Philadelphia with more than one game. The loss that sent the Braves into the break should serve as motivation for the entire second half.
  2. Make the Nationals work for everything
    1. At 46-46, the Nationals are better than advertised, but have their own flaws. Out of nowhere, Michael Morse leads the team with a .306 batting average, Rookie of the Year candidate Danny Espinosa leads the team with 16 HR and 52 RBI’s, but Jayson Werth has been a disappointment, hitting .215 in the first half. Their starting pitching ranks 9th with a 3.53 ERA, while opposing lineups are batting .256 against them.
  3. Continue to do what worked in the first half, with minor improvements
    1. The Braves held the second best record in the NL in the first half, and with a strong pitching staff and a lineup that returns a catalyst in Martin Prado, anything can happen. Look for Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman to continue their strong seasons, while Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward provide a punch the Braves will definitely need down the stretch.