On getaway day, the Braves concluded their first post All-Star break homestand with an 8-0 shutout of the San Diego Padres at Turner Field. With Tim Hudson leading the way on the mound, and Alex Gonzalez's four-hit day leading an offense that had six different players drive in runs—this was the epitome of a Braves quality win.
Atlanta currently owns a 7.0 game lead in the NL East, with an NL-best 56-39 record, as both Philadelphia and New York look up at the Braves with identical 49-46 records.
With the Braves about to embark on their second nine-plus game road trip of the season, let's examine the upcoming road stretch, as well as the remaining schedule in the second half.
The Braves upcoming road trip will not log as many miles as the Arizona-Los Angeles-Minnesota trip in June that ended with four-game splits out west, and winning two of three at Target Field.
Currently the Braves are 34-13 in 47 home games (34 games remaining), and 22-26 in 48 road games (33 games remaining).
JULY 23-25 @ FLORIDA
While the Marlins are playing some good baseball right now, the Braves will be fortunate to miss their two best starters—Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.
Friday, July 23 : Derek Lowe (10-8, 4.39 ERA) hasn't faced the Marlins yet this season, and will be opposed by Alex Sanabia (1-1, 2.12 ERA). Lowe hasn't fared well against the Marlins in the past, going 1-2 with an ERA of 5.71 in six starts since the beginning of 2007.
Sanabia, he of the two career starts and 19 major league innings under his belt, has a good ERA, but his other statistics aren't quite as impressive. He's never made it out of the sixth inning and gives up his fair share of baserunners. The Braves have been hit or miss with pitchers they've seen for the first time.
Saturday, July 24: Kris Medlen (6-2, 3.31 ERA) returns to his slot in the rotation to face off against Anibal Sanchez (7-6, 3.62 ERA). This will be the third time the Braves have faced Sanchez, who is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA against Atlanta this year. Sanchez has struggled in July, with an ERA over 6.00.
Medlen won his only start against Florida, giving up one run in 6.1 innings on July 1. Medlen's only two losses came as a reliever. However, as a starter, he's 6-0, and the Braves have only lost one of his 11 starts.
Sunday, July 25 : Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 4.25 ERA) pitches the finale Sunday afternoon against Chris Volstad (4-8, 4.78). Jurrjens has been fantastic in his four starts since returning from the DL (3-0, 2.21 ERA) and carries a 3-1 career record against the Fish in six starts. Volstad hasn't had a great year, and carries a 1-2 record in four starts against the Braves since the beginning of 2007 into the Sunday matinee.
Prediction: The Braves have won two of three in both previous series with the Marlins this season—and it should continue. If Lowe pitches well on Friday, or the Braves can jump on the rookie, Jurrjens might have a chance to sweep the Fish away. Best bet for a victory is Jurrjens in the finale.
JULY 27-29 @ WASHINGTON
Tuesday, July 27 : I wouldn't be surprised to see MLB Network pick up this game matching Tommy Hanson (8-6, 4.12 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (5-2, 2.32 ERA).
Hanson's owns a 3-0 career against the Nationals, and would be even better if the bullpen hadn't blown a win for him last year. He beat Washington in early May in his only start against them this year.
Strasburg pitched well against the Braves but wound up on the losing end of a 5-0 shutout on June 28. I know this is nitpicking, but the stud rookie has come down to earth and has averaged less than 6.0 IP per start since June 23.
If both pitchers are on, we could see a lot of hitters blown away on both sides by high 90s fastballs and wicked breaking balls.
Wednesday, July 28 : Tim Hudson (10-5, 2.47 ERA) hopes to follow his scoreless outing against the Padres and out-duel Livan Hernandez (7-6, 3.12 ERA). Hernandez beat the Braves when the two teams played in May, but has a 6.29 ERA against Atlanta over the previous three seasons.
Hudson was the winner on June 28, pitching seven shutout innings to beat Strasburg and the Nats. He got a no decision against Washington in a 3-2 loss in early May, giving up two runs in seven innings. He's been a Nat killer, going 8-0 with an ERA of about 1.50 since the beginning of 2007.
Thursday, July 29: Derek Lowe (10-8, 4.39 ERA) pitches the finale in Washington facing Craig Stammen (2-4, 5.50 ERA). These two faced off at Turner Field three weeks ago, as the Nationals beat Lowe and the Braves 7-2.
This month, Stammen has generally struggled, going 0-2 with an ERA over 7.00. Lowe is 4-5 against the Nats since the beginning of 2007, with a respectable 3.76 ERA.
Prediction: The Braves lost two out of three at Nationals Park in early May, and won two of three at Turner Field in late June. The way the Braves and Nats are playing now are more like they were in late June, rather than early May, when the Braves weren't hitting, and the Nats were playing quite well. Chalk up another two out of three to make it a 4-2 record so far on the road trip. Best bet - Hudson dominates Washington, and should continue to do so on Wednesday.
JULY 30 - AUGUST 1 @ CINCINNATI
Friday, July 30 : Kris Medlen (6-2, 3.19 ERA) faces ace Johnny Cueto (9-2, 3.39 ERA) to open the series in the Queen City.
Cueto is 1-0 in two career starts against the Braves, with the Reds winning close games both times, beating Atlanta in 2008, and getting a no-decision in a 4-2 win at Turner Field in September 2009.
Saturday, July 31 : The trade deadline comes and goes as Jair Jurrjens hopes to continue his successful string of starts since being activated to take on Mike Leake (7-1, 3.45 ERA).
Leake got a no-decision in the game the Braves made the 9th inning comeback. He allowed three runs (one earned) in six innings before giving way to a bullpen that eventually imploded.
Jurrjens has had some bad luck against the Reds in the past. He struggles against them in 2008, but left with the lead before the Braves bullpen gave up the lead and eventually the win. In his two 2009 starts against the Reds, he took the losses both times. One game he left down 1-0 after 2.0 innings because of a rain delay, and the other, was a 3-1 loss in September, where he tossed seven solid innings, but got no run support.
Sunday, August 1 : Tommy Hanson (8-6, 4.12 ERA) hopes to make up for his last start against the Reds as he closes out the series and the road trip to face Bronson Arroyo (10-5, 4.25 ERA) in the finale.
At the outset, this has all the making of a Reds blowout win, but Hanson was sick that day, pitched horribly, and the Braves still won on Brooks Conrad's pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam. In his other career start against the Reds, Hanson pitched six innings of three-hit shutout baseball to earn the win.
Arroyo seems to be either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde when facing the Braves. Since he joined the Reds before the 2006 season, Arroyo is 3-3 in seven starts against Atlanta, with a 7.48 ERA.
In his three wins, Arroyo is 3-0, with a 1.39 ERA in 19.1 IP.
In the other four starts, Arroyo is 0-3 with a 14.29 ERA in 17.0 IP.
Prediction: The Braves showed the late inning magic in sweeping a two-game set from the Reds in May. The Reds have struggled some lately. Hanson shakes off his last start against the Reds, and Jurrjens finally gets the best of Cincinnati as the Braves take two out of three. Best bet is the Braves getting to Arroyo early on Sunday, to finish a nine-game road trip with a 6-3 record, and returning home twenty games over .500 at 62-42.
AFTER THE ROAD TRIP. . .
Remaining Road Schedule
The Braves will return home from Cincinnati to host the Mets and Giants. The Braves have four road trips remaining (24 games) and they break down as follows
Three games: Three @ Houston (3-0 at Turner Field)
Six games: Three @ Chicago Cubs (2-1 at Turner Field)
Three @ Colorado (2-1 at Turner Field)
Six games: Three @ Florida (4-2 this season)
Three @ Pittsburgh (5-1 this season)
Nine games: Three @ NY Mets (3-5 this season, 1-4 at Citi Field)
Three @ Philadelphia (7-5 this season, 3-3 at Citizens Bank Park)
Three @ Washington (3-3 this season, 1-2 at Nationals Park)
The Braves have a combined 10-2 record against the NL central teams they still have to face on the road this year. With the Cubs in turmoil, and Houston and Pittsburgh being the doormats of the division, I don't expect much of a change.
Citi Field has not been the Braves' friend this year, but two of those losses the Braves gave away during their nine-game losing streak in April. They've played the Mets better since. Philly could be shutting it down if they're too far out, or they could have recharged with a healthy Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer, Placido Polanco, and perhaps a starting pitcher addition.
The best series to watch for on the road would be at Colorado in mid-August, and at Philadelphia in mid-September.
Prediction: Braves win 13 or 14 out of their final 24 road games. Their final road record would be 41-40 give or take a game.
Remaining Home Schedule
Starting with the series against the Mets in early August the Braves play 34 of their final 58 games at home, where they've won at a .723 clip - the best in the majors this season.
Seven games: Three vs NY Mets (1-1 at Turner Field, 3-5 overall)
Four vs San Francisco (1-2 at AT&T Park in April)
Seven games: Four vs LA Dodgers (2-2 at Dodgers Stadium)
Three vs Washington (2-1 at Turner Field, 3-3 overall)
Seven games: Three vs Florida (2-1 at Turner Field, 4-2 overall)
Four vs NY Mets
Seven games: Four vs St. Louis (0-4 at Busch Stadium in April)
Three vs Washington
Six games: Three vs Florida
Three vs Philadelphia (4-2 at Turner Field, 7-5 overall)
The Braves home schedule is tougher than their road schedule the rest of the season, just from a team record standpoint. They've played the Mets, Phillies, and Giants much better at home than on the road in the recent past and that will likely continue. However, the Braves' final home series vs Philadelphia may not matter too much, as it's the last weekend of the season.
The Mets aren't a good road team, and have showed it lately by going 1-6 on a west coast road trip to Arizona and San Francisco, and should be 0-7 if Phil Cuzzi doesn't miss the call at home on Sunday. I expect the Braves I see the Braves winning 5 of the 7 remaining home game with the Mets, and four of the six remaining with both Florida and Washington.
Depending on the pitching match-ups, a split might not be a bad thing against the Cardinals, especially if Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia and (maybe Oswalt) pitch in that series. The Dodgers are a better home team and the Braves winning 3 in that series is not out of the question. In past years, the series between the Giants and Braves have generally favored the home team, regardless of their records.
Prediction: The Braves win 22 or 23 of their final 34 home games. Their final home record will be 56-25, give or take a game.
Adding it up. The Braves are on pace to finish with a record of 97-65, their best since the 2003 season when they won 100 games for the second straight year. That should give them at least one home-field series as they return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.