By Tara Rowe
Leaving Turner Field after sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers and finally figuring out the New York Mets could have been a setback, but not for the Braves who arrived in Arizona having won five of their last six games and continued that dominance. By the time the series in the desert was complete, the Braves scored 26 runs.
Game 1: Minor/Collmenter
Rookie Mike Minor was finally the beneficiary of tremendous run support in his start against the Diamondbacks. In his first start this season, his teammates failed to score any runs in the six innings he pitched against the Mets. In his second start, Minor didn’t allow the Brewers a run in seven innings. As it turned out, the only two runs the Braves scored in the innings Mike Minor was on the mound were enough to win the game. His third start against the Diamondbacks broke the trend of little to no run support. In the eight innings Minor pitched, the Braves scored all ten of the runs that would win them the game.
The offensive production behind Minor included a double and two homeruns by Freddie Freeman; a single, double and stolen base for Jason Heyward; a pair of singles and a pair of walks for Michael Bourn; a pair of singles for Brian McCann; a three-hit night for Dan Uggla, all singles; a single and double for Juan Francisco; a double for Martin Prado; and, a single for rookie Tyler Pastornicky. The Braves were able to score 10 runs off their 16 hits, all of this done without the resting Chipper Jones.
Mike Minor pitched 8 full innings and left the game in the hands of Jonny Venters in the 9th who gave up 2 walks, but got out of the inning and ended the game without allowing a run.
Game 2: Beachy/Cahill
Brandon Beachy entered his start against Arizona fresh off a dazzling performance at home against the Brewers. He continued pitching brilliantly, going 7 1/3 innings without allowing a run. Beachy’s performance lowered his ERA to 0.47, the lowest in the big leagues for a starting pitcher.
It seems that the Braves’ sudden offense is giving their young pitchers the confidence to go out and pitch their game. Beachy was helped by the hot bat of Freddie Freeman who doubled home Martin Prado to start the scoring. And, Brian McCann was vintage McCann, coming through in the clutch with the long ball–a line drive blast with 2 outs and a runner on.
Something the Braves are doing that is a welcome sight for Braves fans is producing runs. They’re scoring runs at a steady clip and not all by via extra base hits and the longball. They finished game 2 going 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Not bad for a team that struggled to hit sacrifice flies last season.
Winning their fourth game in a row, the Braves finished game 2 in the desert with a Major League-leading 84 runs.
Game 3: Hanson/Saunders
It didn’t take as many runs for the Braves’ bats to carry Tommy Hanson to a win against the Diamondbacks in game 4, extending the Braves’ winning streak to 5 games. Scratching out a run in each of the first three frames of the game, the Braves provided just enough offense to get the win against Joe Saunders, a pitcher who was just as strong as Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson. Hanson was superb, retiring the last 13 batters he faced.
When a pitcher is as in control as Tommy Hanson was, it is usually hard to see them exit the game, but Atlanta has a formidable bullpen and that was on display when Jonny Venters came in to relieve Hanson and struck out three. Venters was followed by closer Craig Kimbrel who struck out 3 batters for the save.
Though the offense had been the story thus far in the series, scoring 53 runs in the previous 7 games coming into game 3 of the series in Arizona, the story of game 3 was truly the pitching. As it turns out, the first 3 games of the series featured the kind of pitching Braves fans expected to see from the beginning of the season forward.
Game 4: Delgado/Kennedy
Going into this game, the Braves were hitting .402 (35-for-87) with 11 doubles, 5 HRs, 30 RBIs, and a .460 OBP since their home opener.
Delgado’s command was lacking and the grand slam he gave up to Gerrardo Parra in the 2nd inning proved impossible for the Braves to overcome. Despite out hitting the Diamondbacks 10-7, the Braves dropped the game 6-4.
Delgado may be headed to the bullpen, if not Triple-A Gwinnett when ace Tim Hudson returns (back surgery) in a week or so. His outing in Arizona may have determined his immediate future for manager Fredi Gonzalez, though no announcement has been made as to what Delgado’s future holds.
The Diamondbacks paid special tribute to Chipper Jones in the final game of the series and the final game Chipper will play at Chase Field in the regular season. The Diamondbacks played a video on the jumbotron saluting Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame worthy career, complete with Chipper’s walk-up music. The Arizona crowd gave a giant ovation to the video as well as Chipper when he exited the dugout to wave to the fans. Prior to the game, Chipper who was not in the lineup went down the right field line and signed autographs for dozens of fans. When Chipper’s name was announced in the 7th inning, pinch hitting for Chad Durbin, the Arizona crowd once again gave Chipper a loud ovation.
ON TO THE DODGERS…
Monday: Jurrjens (0-1, 8.10) vs. Capuano (1-0, 4.50)
Tuesday: Minor (2-1) vs Harang (1-1)
Wednesday: Beachy (2-1, 0.47) vs Lily (2-0, 0.69)
If the Braves hope to be successful against the Dodgers, a team with a 12-4 record and the league-leading bat of Matt Kemp, they will have to figure out how to break the stronghold the Dodgers have on games played at Dodger Stadium where they have a 6-0 record. The Braves will also have to capitalize on the struggles the Dodgers experienced in the last game of the series in Houston when they failed to score a run and gave up 12 runs to the Astros.
The Braves won’t face Chad Billingsley on their trip to L.A., the pitcher shallacked by the Astros. They’ll face Capuano who, despite a 1-0 record, has not been sharp in his first three starts of the season against the Padres, Pirates and Brewers. Capuano racked up a 7.71 ERA in his first start, but has chipped away at that stat. In his first start, Capuano seemed to lose command entirely after 4 2/3 innings. Capuano has yet to make it past the 6 inning mark. He has given up 14 hits, 8 earned runs and 7 walks. The patience of Braves hitters may be key to beating Capuano.
With Chipper’s ailing left knee swelling on flights, it isn’t clear how often Chipper will be used. It is important to the Braves’ continued success that Chipper produce in limited at-bats and that his replacement at third base, Juan Francisco, take advantage of his at-bats and not commit errors in the field.
The major problems in the bullpen remain Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin. With no timetable on the return of Peter Moylan (shoulder surgery) and no decision yet on whether Delgado might go to the ‘pen, it’s important that Hernandez and Durbin not give up a lead in their late-inning outings. Durbin has surrendered 12 hits, 6 earned runs and 3 home runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez has pitched slightly better than Durbin, surrendering 11 hits, 4 earned runs earned runs and 1 home run in 7 2/3 innings pitched. These two must shut down games if the Braves are going to hold on to leads.
Brian McCann may have his work cut out for him in L.A. with Dee Gordon on the base paths. The pitchers are going to have to hold Gordon on and McCann will have to be on his toes preventing Gordon from taking bags. With the pop of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, one stolen base can easily lead to a run on an extra base hit. Keeping Gordon off the base paths will be essential.
The Braves begin the series with the Dodgers tonight at 10:10 p.m. (EST).