• Exclusives

    Braves sweep Phils, await Mets

    For the second year in a row, Atlanta rolled into Philadelphia for a final three-game series before the All-Star break. This time, the Philadelphia Phillies sat in last place as the Braves were looking up at the first place Nationals. A lot has changed in the National League East in a year.

    The Braves came into the series with the Phillies on the heels of a 4-game series at home with Chicago where four key things happened: Jair Jurrjens pitched well, solidifying his spot in the rotation and reminding us of the JJ of old; Chipper Jones had a 5-hit game, his first at home and third of his career; Mike Minor found success; and, Brian McCann, who snapped an 0-14 slump early in the series, launched his first homer since June 15th in the series finale. McCann’s home run would begin a special four games in which McCann went yard in each.

    Despite dealing with bone chips in his ankle, Tim Hudson has continued to give the Atlanta Braves everything he’s got. Hudson pitched a remarkable 7 scoreless innings, leading the Braves to a shutout of the Phillies. Huddy’s outing was bolstered by consecutive 2-out walks to Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman which loaded the bases for Brian McCann who blasted a grand slam in the 8th inning. Tim Hudson is scheduled to have another cortisone shot in his ailing ankle and is hopeful that the all-star break will give it the rest it needs to be healthy heading into the second-half. Hudson is hoping to avoid surgery to remove the bone chips, a surgery that would put him out for at least six weeks.

    Tommy Hanson, like Jair Jurrjens, is looking more and more like the Tommy we saw prior to last season’s all-star break. Tommy pitched 7 innings, allowing 3 earned runs and striking out 6. He was backed up by 2 flawless innings of relief on the part of Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel. Braves’ offense has seen a shift of late, thanks to the resurgence of Jason Heyward, the consistency of Martin Prado, the 13-game hitting streak of Chipper Jones, and home runs in 4 consecutive games for Brian McCann. The Philly series was a reminder to anyone who watches the Braves that when firing on all cylinders, this team can be absolutely dominant.

    The final game of the series in Philadelphia saw Dan Uggla snap a nasty slump of his own, homering off Vance Worley in the 4th inning. Uggla’s 432-foot blast to dead center was his 12th of the season and his first since June 9th. Uggla had not had a hit in his last 20 plate appearances prior to that home run off Worley. Like McCann, the Braves really need to get Uggla going. Jair Jurrjens put in yet another quality start, allowing only 3 earned runs in 7 innings. With Brian McCann’s go-ahead home run in the 7th inning, his 4th consecutive game with a bomb, Jurrjens improved to 3-2 with a 4.97 ERA.

    Throughout the series in Philly, Braves pitching received incredible defensive support from leather-flashing Andrelton Simmons, hustling Dan Uggla and the speedy Jason Heyward. There is no doubt that there are many gold gloves in the future for rookie Andrelton Simmons. While Dan Uggla’s defense was never something he was known for while with the Marlins, he has improved steadily with the glove while with the Braves.

    A few things that didn’t go well for the Braves in Philly: Jonny Venters was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Braves initially are calling nerve impingement in his pitching elbow. Venters has struggled in nearly every pitching category and has not looked at all like the Venters we saw dominate the league last season. In addition to losing Venters, the Braves were dealt a terrible blow in the final game of the Philly series when rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons slid head first into second base on a heads-up, hustle double and fractured the fifth metacarpal on his right hand.

    AFTER THE ALL-STAR BREAK…

    Friday: Gee (6-7, 4.10) vs. Hudson (7-4, 3.56)

    Saturday: Dickey (12-1, 2.40) vs. Hanson (10-5, 3.71)

    Sunday: TBD vs. TBD

    Heading into the second half of the season, the Atlanta Braves are 46-39 and the New York Mets are 46-40. The Braves and Mets are 4 and 4 1/2 games behind the first place Nationals, respectively.

    The New York Mets are one of several surprises in Major League Baseball this season. A healthy David Wright, impressive pitching staff led by knuckle baller R. A. Dickey, and the contributions of role players like Daniel Murphy have kept the Mets above .500 and competitive in the tough NL East.

    Johan Santana twisted his ankle in his last start, so the Braves may not see Santana in the series. Manager Terry Collins wants to give Johan an extra couple of days in addition to the all-star break to heal. Collins says Johan will go either Sunday or Monday–if he waits until Monday, the Braves will not see the tough lefty. However, they will definitely see all-star R.A. Dickey.

    Keys for the Braves will be to continue the offensive surge they’ve exhibited lately. Keeping McCann hot after the break will be essential to a successful second half for the Braves. Continued production from Heyward, Prado, Bourn and Chipper will be important, as will getting some hits under Uggla’s belt for him to build on.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.