With the final interleague series of the year this weekend, the Braves play host to the Baltimore Orioles for a three-game set, beginning tonight.

The last time these two teams met, June 12-14 of 2009, the Orioles took two of three while at Camden Yards, but that was then.

The Braves have gone 8-4 in 2011 in interleague play, most notably winning 7 straight (pitching staff holds a 1.71 ERA over that span) after sweeps of the Blue Jays and Mariners. The Orioles are 6-10.

But this weekend’s matchup will be more than what these two teams have done through interleague play so far.

The Orioles have composed a young, talented squad, managed by Buck Showalter with a lineup anchored by Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott.

Coming into the series, the Orioles were swept by the Cardinals at home after taking two of three from Cincinnati.

In tonight’s opener (7:35), Jair Jurrjens (10-3) goes opposite Jeremy Guthrie (3-9) to kick off the month of July for the Braves.

Jurrjens has made one start against the AL this year, a 5 1/3 inning outing against Texas, a 4-2 Braves win, before going 6 innings last Saturday in San Diego as the Braves won that start as well, 10-1. He dropped his NL-leading ERA to 2.07 after Saturday’s win, and is looking to earn his 11th victory of the season. Jurrjens is 5-1 at Turner Field in 2011 and has never faced the Orioles.

Guthrie will be looking to earn victories in back-to-back starts for the first time this season. In his last outing against the Reds, the righty went 5 2/3 innings, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits in a Baltimore 7-5 win. Guthrie has won two of this three interleague starts this season.

Saturday’s middle game (7:10) will feature Tim Hudson (6-6) against Jake Arrieta (9-4).

In his last outing Sunday, Hudson went 6 innings in San Diego, not allowing a run on 6 hits while striking out 8 Padres, but Jonny Venters was unable to hold the 1-0 lead, giving up 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th as the Braves lost the game and the series. The outing prior against Toronto, Hudson was magnificent, throwing 8 innings of two-hit ball, striking out 8 and belting a 2-run homer, providing all the offense he needed to earn his 6th win of the year.

Making his first start since June 20, Arrieta will be looking to notch his 10th win of the year. In his last start, he worked 5 innings against Pittsburgh, giving up 3 runs on 3 hits in a 8-3 Oriole win. The Orioles offense is averaging 6.5 runs with Arrieta on the mound.
In the finale Sunday afternoon (1:35), Brandon Beachy (3-1) returns to the mound at Turner Field going against rookie Zach Britton (6-6).

In his two starts since returning from the DL, Beachy has been as advertised, going 6 innings against the Blue Jays and Mariners and giving up just one run in each game while notching 20 strikeouts. The young righty will look to earn his 4th win of the year.

Britton will be looking to get back on the right track after losing two straight starts. His previous outing against the Cardinals, he lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up 4 runs on 7 hits in a 6-2 Oriole loss. He has not posted a win since June 8, a 3-2 victory over Oakland where he went 6 1/3 innings, giving up a run on 4 hits.

Offensively, the Braves left Seattle with momentum, scoring 13 runs over 3 games and besting Felix Hernandez Wednesday for 5. During the last 10 games, Freddie Freeman has hit .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBIs while Brian McCann has got 15-for-30 with 5 HR and 10 RBIs in his last 8 games against the AL. He is 11-for-21 in 6 career meetings against Baltimore.

Whie the Orioles come in slumping after having lost 12 of 16 on the road, Markakis is the hottest Oriole hitter, currently posting a 19-game hitting streak. Over that span, Markakis has hit .414 with 2 HR and 12 RBIs. The last Oriole to reach 20 games was Brian Roberts in 2005. In his career, Markakis is 11-for-25 against the Braves.

Keys to the series

  1. Continue the dominant pitching
    1. Posting a 1.71 ERA in a 7-game win streak against the AL is no easy task, but the Braves must not look past the final interleague series as the Orioles are a formidable team, despite their 13-21 road record.
  2. Keep the offensive momentum going
    1. The Braves have had their moments this year offensively, seeing times of feast and other times famine. With the recent win over Hernandez, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, the confidence in this offense should be enough to carry them into the All-Star Break (July 11-13).
  3. Begin July strong
    1. After a mediocre May that saw them treading water in the east, the Braves went 17-9 in June and sat 4 games behind the Phillies before Friday’s games. With the season at its midway point, the Braves need to continue what worked well: strong pitching and timely hitting.