Braves Face Their First Test as They Take on the Dodgers
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The Atlanta Braves lost their first game in six days on Sunday, losing to the Diamondbacks 6-4. With a record of 10-6, the Braves will head to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers in a three-game series. The Braves, despite being second in the National League East, have shown that they are the team to beat in the division, and they face their first real test of the season in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers are the best team in the West, posting a 12-4 record in the early 2012 season, and Matt Kemp has become the front-runner in the MVP race this year. The Braves have been routing teams with an explosive offense that has scored more runs than any National League team, and Freddie Freeman has 15 RBI which is third in the National League.
Freeman’s RBI total is third in the NL, behind Kemp (22) and Andre Ethier (21). Kemp also leads the majors in home runs with nine, and batting average with a .450 average through 60 at-bats in the 2012 season.
The Dodgers have been streaking harder than even the Braves. They have won 12 games this season, tied for second most in MLB, and they have been a heavy favorite to win the West by double digits. The Dodgers pose a real threat to the Braves because they play well in each aspect of the game. They field well (10 errors this year compared to the Braves’ 12), their pitching keeps them in games (their 3.19 team ERA is eighth in the majors this season) and their offense needs little more than Kemp and Ethier driving runs in.
The Braves will miss 2011 National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on this trip, but they will face Chris Capuano, Aaron Harrang and veteran Ted Lilly who has posted a 0.69 ERA in picking up two wins this season. The Braves will be able to put up runs against these three pitchers, but what will be critical is putting up runs early. The Braves have put up a run in the first two innings of 11 of their first 16 games this season, and this early run support has benefited the Braves’ starting pitching immensely.
What is more important to the Braves winning games against the Dodgers?
The Braves’ pitching will have to be on point in Los Angeles. Jair Jurrjens, the Braves’ 2011 Cy Young candidate, has vastly underperformed so far in 2012 after coming off a knee injury that halted his 2011 season after the All-Star break. Jurrjens takes the hill for Atlanta on Monday night in Los Angeles, and he needs to bounce back and perform the way he showed Braves fans he can in 2011.
Mike Minor, the young Braves left-hander who threw 7.1 stellar shutout innings against the Diamondbacks on April 20, has shown that he is capable of holding a good lineup at bay long enough for the Braves’ offense to jump on the opposing pitcher. Minor and Brandon Beachy, the April 25 starter for the Braves in LA, have been stars in the Atlanta rotation so far in 2012. Beachy has two wins in three starts and has posted a 0.47 ERA in 19.1 innings. The young starters are not the problem, Atlanta needs production from its “veteran” pitchers like Jurrjens.
The Dodgers will test the Braves in a way they haven’t been tested so far in 2012. Braves fans will learn just how good their team is in this series but Atlanta looks poised to win games in Los Angeles.
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