• Exclusives

    Braves drop series to Cubs, Cardinals next up

    By Tara Rowe

    A trip to Wrigley Field fresh off a sweep of the Rockies ended the Braves’ momentum and didn’t give them the boost they needed to take sole possession of the division from the Nationals.

    Having not faced Samardzija as a starter, his 3-1 record and 3.41 ERA didn’t quite prepare the Braves’ offense for the lights-out stuff he brought. Allowing only 5 hits, Samardzija went 7 innings and allowed only 1 earned run via the long ball off the bat of Jason Heyward in the 2nd inning. Is Samardzija’s success legitimate? If the hot Atlanta bats struggled against him, it is hard to deny that moving out of the bullpen and into Chicago’s starting rotation has worked well for Samardzija. His line against the Braves included 7 strikeouts. Adding insult to injury, the Braves went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in the first game of the series.

    Tommy Hanson didn’t have an awful outing, but the bats didn’t come through. His outing ended after 6 innings, allowing only 5 hits to the Cubs (the same number of hits as Samardzija) and 2 earned runs. Both earned runs allowed by Hanson were home runs. The Braves’ bullpen faltered in relief of Hanson.

    A great outing in game 2 by young Randall Delgado was completed by a phenomenal group effort by the bullpen. Kris Medlen got the win thanks to a clutch hit from second baseman Dan Uggla.

    The real heartbreaker of the Chicago series was Tim Hudson’s outing Wednesday. Huddy allowed only 1 earned run in 7 brilliant innings, but was out-dueled by Paul Maholm who pitched 7 innings of scoreless baseball. Hudson didn’t allow a walk compared to the 3 allowed by Maholm, but alas, the bats didn’t come through for Huddy.

    The Braves dropped the series to the Chicago Cubs, leaving the Windy City with a 19-13 record. The Braves went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position.

    BUSCH STADIUM AWAITS…

    Friday: Minor (2-2, 5.97) vs. Garcia (2-2, 3.76)

    Saturday: Beachy (3-1, 1.62) vs. Wainwright (2-3, 5.61)

    Sunday: Hanson (3-3, 3.63) vs. Lynn (6-0, 1.40)

    Having dropped the series to the Cubs, the Braves arrive in St. Louis to face a team that just swept the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves hope to end the Cardinals’ momentum.

    Without Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals don’t seem to have skipped a beat. Bringing Lance Lynn into the rotation brought a surprising outcome, Carlos Beltran is providing much more in the lineup than the Cardinals expected when they signed him this offseason, Furcal is healthy and providing a spark at the top of the lineup, Jon Jay is on fire, and new manager Mike Matheny is settling in nicely.

    Somehow, the Cards sit atop the National League Central with a 3 1/2 game lead over Cincinnati. The Cardinals have done all this without ace Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman and Allen Craig.

    The Braves will face Garcia, Wainwright and Lynn while in St. Louis. Their chances of taking the series will likely hinge on winning the first two games before they face Lynn. Lynn will likely be the biggest challenge of the 3-game set.Yadier Molina took a  96 mph fastball off his wrist while catching Wednesday night and is day-t0-day while his wrist heals. X-rays were negative. Molina is hoping to return for the first game with the Braves. His presence in the lineup is certainly felt by the way he guides the Cards’ pitching staff. His bat has been a problem for the Braves. He has a career .312 batting average against the Braves in the 40 games he has faced them.

    While manager Fredi Gonzalez continues to say that Chad Durbin is fine, one has to wonder how long Fredi continues to go to Durbin and Hernandez instead of Medlen or the big three. With O’Flaherty struggling, the Braves can hardly afford to lose leads when Durbin takes over and subsequently gives up home runs.

    It bears repeating that the Braves have struggled mightily with runners in scoring position. Unfortunately, the 1-for-19 RISP in Chicago is nothing new to the Braves. On base percentage may be the key to the Braves entire season, not just the upcoming series with St. Louis. It seem the oft-heard line for Atlanta is ‘lead-off hit for Michael Bourne, Braves strand him on base.’ This has to change if the Braves hope to survive the dog days of summer when hot bats and home runs are hard to come by.

    The Braves begin the series at Busch Stadium at 8:25 p.m. (EST) Friday.