Is there anything sweeter in the baseball regular season than a 4-game sweep in front of the home folk? I think not. Tim Hudson and the Braves accomplished that feat when they polished off a 4-game sweep of the short-handed Colorado Rockies on Thursday afternoon. Gotta tip your cap to a bunch of guys here: Hudson battled the 95+ degree heat to pitch into the 8th inning, Rookie of the Year candidate Freddie Freeman belted his 4th homer of the series to give Hudson the lead, Jason Heyward posted the kind of balanced line we’re hoping to see more of in the 2nd half: 3-for-4 with 2 RBI, a HR, and a stolen base, magician Jonny Venters struck out the only batter he faced as he escaped an inherited bases loaded jam in the 8th with the tying runs on base, and Rookie of the Year candidate #2 Craig Kimbrel collected his record (for a rookie) 27th save before the All-Star break, passing Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon. It’s tough sledding for the Rockies right now (get it, sledding?). Already without star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, they lost All-Everything shortstop Troy Tulowitzki early in the first game on Monday due to a muscle strain. And the Braves pounced on ‘em early and often this week pounding out 8 homers and outscoring Colorado 24-8 in the series. Dan Uggla even showed some signs of life with a couple soaring homers (up to 14 now), a couple patient walks, and a couple more base knocks (average in the .180′s now, look out!). Now Atlanta will want the Rockies to get healthy over the break next week as they will play a series with Philadelphia shortly afterwards. So feel free to come back rested and strong CarGo and Tulo!!
Speaking of the idle Phillies, they finally lost a game late last night in extras to the Marlins. So the Braves (53-36) moved from 4 GB to 2.5 GB since start of play yesterday. The Braves are 9-1 in their last 10 games, sweeping 2 of their last 3 opponents, but the Phillies are 7-3 themselves so it’s been tough to get closer in the standings. That doesn’t really matter right now though. Fredi Gonzalez preaches the ol’ Bobby Cox staple: just keep winning series’ and there’s a great chance you’ll end up where you want to be- which is a part of postseason baseball in October. Can’t say enough about the much maligned Braves offense and how they’ve stepped it up big time in the last 2 weeks to back up this outstanding pitching staff since I posted up that virtual “Missing” flier. Couldn’t have come at a better time because wouldn’t you know it, the Braves close out the first half in Philadelphia this weekend, with a chance to send a message that they’re here to stay this season. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick and tired of the ESPN talking heads fawning over the Phillies and basically handing them the NL East crown already. I’m not gonna go all Rodney Dangerfield on you and say the Braves are getting no respect, but for a team that’s now 17 games over .500 and has 2 more wins than the holier-than-thou Yankees and Red Sox, and features legitimate MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year candidates, I wouldn’t mind getting some national props. Although, come to think of it, maybe it’s better this way. When the Falcons stormed their way to 14 regular season wins and the #1 seed last year without much coverage or fanfare, they crumpled under the pressure and hype as soon as they finally had the spotlight in the playoffs. So you know what, the national media should keep focusing on Albert Pujols’ injury and contract, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder’s trade equity, Derek Jeter’s historic quest for 3,000 hits (worthy of the hype) while batting in the .250′s (enough already), Adrian Gonzalez’s MVP campaign in his 1st year in Boston, Yankees All-Star snubs, and penciling the Phillies in the World Series – cause it’s obviously working for the go-about-your-business Braves.
The Braves have played the Phillies well so far this season, but this weekend will be a unique challenge. While the Phillies have their 3 best lined up for battle (Halladay, Lee, and Hamels) the Braves will be without the services of Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson because of the timing, and instead will have to counter with Beachy, Hanson, and Lowe. That still ain’t too shabby. Should be a playoff atmosphere in front of 3 sell-out crowds and the best 2 teams in the National League going at it right before the All-Star break. I know one thing, the Phillies are lucky they swooped in to grab Cliff Lee out from under the Yankees and Rangers noses at the last minute in the offseason and that a couple young arms from the minors have filled in very strong for Roy Oswalt, because without having all those aces stockpiled, Atlanta would be in 1st place. If the Braves can somehow scrap together enough runs to win this series, without Martin Prado and 2 of their best starters available, that might go a long way towards showing Fredi Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren that this team can contend without dealing for another bat at the trade deadline. If they struggle, some trade rumors may start rumbling. The Braves and Phillies have become legitimate, competitive rivals, so it should be a fun weekend series.
The Good: What else can you say about Jair Jurrjens? Picked up his 12th win (NL leader) on Wednesday night, giving up 1 run in 6 innings, dropping his E.R.A to 1.87 (NL leader). He’s now in the 1st half clubhouse as one of 4 guys in the last 20 seasons to have 12 wins and a sub-2.00 E.R.A at the All-Star break (along with Randy Johnson ’00, Greg Maddux ’98, and Roger Clemens ’97). All but the Mad-Dog went on to win the Cy Young that year. Wouldn’t it be cool to have teammates AND battery mates (Jurrjens and McCann) start the All-Star game together? No chemistry issues there! That’s up to Bruce Bochy, but looks like it’s gonna either be JJ or Halladay…Freddie Freeman got it going in Seattle and rocked the house during the 7 game homestand. That average is climbing towards .300 (.279 right now) and his bat in the middle of the lineup is proving to be just as valuable as his glove at 1B. Keep swinging it Freddie.
The Bad: You can see Chipper grimacing after certain swings and pivots. His knee is obviously bothering him. I’m guessing this is one All-Star game he wouldn’t have minded missing while chilling at the ranch, but he’ll certainly appreciate the honor and hopefully still get a good bit of rest while in Arizona. His presence will be big in the 2nd half if he can avoid surgery.
The Ugly: Martin Prado’s staph infection was certainly scary, but he’s in Gwinnett this weekend for some rehab work, and hopefully will be back in the lineup next week. If there’s anyone who can get his timing back with a quickness, it’s hit machine Prado.
About the Author
Written by Marcus Young
"A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He is...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win!" The late great Skip Caray with my favorite sports call of all time as a lumbering Sid Bream was able to beat Barry Bonds' three-hopper to the plate by an eyelash in the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to secure the Atlanta Braves' miraculous back-to-back World Series trips in 1991 and 1992. I grew up in Atlanta, I am still a die hard Braves, Falcons, and Hawks fan and am hungry for another championship to put alongside that lonely 1995 World Series trophy! I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2002 and am back living in Hot-lanta now. Go Deacs and Go Dawgs! My favorite athletes are John Smoltz, Magic Johnson, and Brett Favre. Braves are on a mission in 2011 in the 20th anniversary of that magical 1991 season!