• Exclusives

    Braves finish strong at home, head west

    By Tara Rowe

    Dan Uggla hit his first homerun of the season in Wednesday's series finale.

    Entering the series with the New York Mets, the Braves were riding the momentum of a 5-game winning streak and a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers. They were quickly dejected by yet another loss to the Mets on Monday, their 4th straight dropped to the Metropolitans this season. Unlike the trip to Citi Field, however, the Braves were able to turn it around at Turner Field and went on to defeat the Mets Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon for the series win.

    Game 1: Hanson/Gee

    Despite solid pitching through five innings from Tommy Hanson, the wheels fell off in the 6th inning when Tommy gave up a long ball to Ike Davis with two runners on base. Home runs surrendered by the rotation continue to be a worry. Following the 3-run bomb by Davis, Livan Hernandez came in to relieve Hanson and surrendered another home run to Jason Bay.

    Braves offense managed only one run off Gee and none off Met relievers. Seven Braves went down via strikeout. One of them, Dan Uggla, whiffed on a very ugly 3rd pitch swing. Jack Wilson nearly had his first home run since 2009, but was robbed by Bay in left field who showcased stellar defense (defense that would evade him in games 2 and 3).

    Game 2: Delgado/Santana

    It was clear early on that Santana did not have the same stuff working for him that he had in the Opening Day match up at Citi Field. He also suffered horrendous defense behind him. An early error by Jason Bay advanced Michael Bourn who went on to score in the 1st inning.

    Santana broke down in the 2nd inning after a succession of hits. Uggla got on base with a walk, his fifth of the young season. He was then advanced by Santana killer Matt Diaz who lined the 6th pitch of the at-bat to center field. Freddie Freeman, returning to the lineup following an off day during game one, saw 11 pitches before hitting a double to Bay. Pastornicky, Delgado and Heyward added on before Santana was pulled after giving up 5 runs and getting only 1 out in the 2nd inning.

    The Braves managed to tack on 3 more runs off Met relievers including a pinch hit blast by Juan Francisco. Getting to Santana early ended an awful slide against the Mets.

    Game 3: Jurrjens/Dickey

    Entering the rubber match of the series, the Braves were without Chipper in the lineup as he continued to rest his ailing left knee. The weather was not ideal for an afternoon game at the Ted. And, the Braves faced a formidable opponent in the knuckle baller, R.A. Dickey.

    The Braves struggled in the 1st inning to hit the knuckle ball, but came out in the 2nd ready to respond to the home run Ike Davis put on the board in the top of the inning for the Mets. After a double by Freddie Freeman, Juan Francisco hit another bomb into the seats. Dan Uggla homered, his first of the season, and Freddie Freeman followed suit. Freeman’s blast was the final pitch for Dickey. It wasn’t the end of Braves offense, however. Chipper Jones pinch hit in the bottom of the 6th inning, doubling to left and batting in Pastornicky. Chipper’s double showcased the awful defense the Mets displayed throughout the series, especially from Jason Bay.

    The bullpen seemed composed for the first time in several games. Cristhian Martinez was brilliant in relief of Jurrjens and though Durbin pitched himself into a bases-loaded jam, he wiggled off the hook and escaped the 7th inning unscathed. By recording a scoreless inning, Durbin ended a dubious streak. Prior to his performance on Wednesday, the right-hander had allowed a homer in 7 straight appearances dating back to last September.

    <a href='http://msn.foxsports.com/video?videoid=375850f7-dc1a-453b-9960-5503590c9272&#038;src=v5:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Braves rout Mets' >Video: Braves rout Mets</a>

    ON TO ARIZONA…

    Thursday: Minor (1-1, 4.38) vs Collmenter (0-0, 12.36)

    Friday: Beachy (1-1, 0.75) vs Cahill (1-0, 1.35)

    Saturday: Hanson (1-2, 3.71) vs Saunders (1-0, 0.64)

    Sunday: Delgado (2-0, 4.35) vs Kennedy (2-0, 3.86)

    Looking ahead to the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, pieces must continue to fall in place for the Braves to be successful.

    The offense has improved of late and Atlanta’s young hitters appear to be putting it all together. Heyward has an 8-game hitting streak, Pastornicky is contributing in key spots, Francisco is bringing the long ball (though not necessarily any defense), and Freddie Freeman is finally getting back into the form he flashed in Spring Training. These are all key pieces to the Braves’ offensive success.

    As of the conclusion of Wednesday’s series finale with the Mets, the Braves led not only the National League, but all of baseball in runs scored. This is a trend the Braves would obviously like to continue.

    While the offense is humming, the pitching staff appears shakier than expected thus far. The rotation continues to struggle and while velocity is not the key issue, though it remains a much talked about topic. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are both throwing with diminished velocity as compared to last season. But while they hope to see an uptick on the radar gun, control is of greater immediate concern. In Arizona, where the ball carries well to all fields, the longball can quickly become problematic for any hurler who fails to locate his pitches.

    Though O’Flaherty struggled on Tuesday against the Mets, the major problems in the bullpen remain Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin. In such a hitter-friendly ballpark, games can turn around quickly, and the bullpen cannot afford to give up runs in the mid or latter innings, even with a seemingly comfortable lead.

    Third runner-up in last year’s MVP balloting, Justin Upton, is nursing a bruised thumb, and the white-hot Chris Young has been placed on the DL after a nasty collision with the outfield wall. Taking advantage of these absences will be essential for Atlanta’s success in the upcoming series. Minor will have to continue the dominance he displayed in his last start against the Brewers, especially while the lineup faces the hard-to-read Collmenter.

    Despite the hitter-friendly confines, runs may be hard to scratch out. Diamondbacks pitching has been solid thus far, and they are always tough to beat on their home turf.  The Dbacks have lost only 5 of their last 30 games at Chase Field. Going into Phoenix, the Braves will have their work cut out for them. Taking 2 out of 3 in Arizona would be a great boost before heading to Los Angeles to face the rolling Dodgers.