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Monday's game was one of the more boring and uneventful games of the 2011 season, so don't expect a big recap full of suspense and insight to the game. It just wasn't that great. You've been warned.
Derek Lowe started for the Braves and he didn't pitch very well. Wandy Rodriguez, fresh off the disabled list, pitched pretty darn well and kept Atlanta off the scoreboard until the game was well in-hand. Lowe ended up going 5.1 innings and allowed five runs to score on eight hits and three walks. He struck out just two Astros hitters after Tommy Hanson struck out 14 the previous game. Rodriguez pitched six strong innings and allowed just two hits (both of which were doubles) and four walks.
Hunter Pence drove in the first two runs of the game on a 2-run home run that just cleared the wall in right-center field. He took a high fastball and drove it well, and Derek Lowe was visibly upset with himself after throwing the pitch. He and Brian McCann had a conference on the mound just prior to that pitch and one has to think McCann encouraged him to throw the high fastball. It didn't work out very well.
Houston broke the game wide open in the sixth inning. Jeff Keppinger singled, Brett Wallace doubled in a run, J.R. Towles singled, Matt Downs doubled which drove in two runs, Michael Bourn intentionally walked, Clint Barmes brought in another run with a sacrifice fly, and Hunter Pence seemingly ended the game with a 2-run single to make the score 7-0 in the Astros' favor. Towles drove in the eighth run of the game with a sacrifice fly in the following inning.
The Braves did battle back in the ninth. Matt Young doubled, Eric Hinske drew a walk on a 12-pitch at-bat, and Jordan Schafer hit his first home run of the season to make the score 8-3. Dan Uggla flew out for the final out of the game.
Braves don't get the 4-game sweep, but hey, I'll take 7-3 road trips every single time. Pretty damn impressive what Atlanta did this week without so many of their regular players.
Tommy Hanson struck out a career high 14 batters helping the Braves to a 4-1 win over the Houston Astros. The victory was Atlanta's sixth in a row and third straight against Houston. The Braves will try to complete the four game sweep tomorrow.
Hanson wins his eighth game of the season going seven innings, allowing three hits and only one run. His previous career high in strikeouts was 12. Hanson lowered his ERA to 2.48 in the process. The only blemish came on a Carlos Lee double in the sixth that scored Matt Downs.
Atlanta's offense has come to life in the series and they have been banging out the long ball. Dan Uggla put Atlanta on the board early in the first with a two run home run to left. The homer was Uggla's eighth of the season. Uggla had two hits for the second straight day and may be finally showing signs of coming out of the season long slump that he has endured. Brian McCann added his second homer in as many days in the sixth pushing the Atlanta lead to 4-0. The homer was McCann's ninth of the season.
Brett Myers takes the loss for Houston after allowing four runs over seven innings of work. Myers is now 2-6 on the season.
Eric O'Flaherty worked a scoreless eighth allowing only one hit and Jonny Venters closed things out in the ninth for his third save of the season giving Craig Kimbrel the day off.
Atlanta goes for the four game sweep tomorrow in the series finale with Derek Lowe taking the mound for the Braves.
The Atlanta Braves combined to score 17 runs in their two series this week against the Mets and Marlins. They've now scored 17 runs in their last two games against the Astros. Talk about a change of events.
Mike Minor pitched six strong innings and allowed two runs, both of which came in the first inning. He settled down nicely and gave up just one hit and two walks after nearly imploding to start out the game. He struck out four Astros hitters on the night. Jordan Lyles, a rookie making his third start of the season, pitched 6.1 strong innings for Houston and allowed eight hits and two walks, though he managed to allow just two runs. Lyles struck out five batters on the night.
The Astros got on the scoreboard in the first inning and did so on three consecutive hits. Michael Bourn tripled, Hunter Pence doubled and Carlos Lee doubled as well to give Houston a 2-0 lead. The Braves led off both the first and second innings with back-to-back hits, but the club was unable to cash in either time.
Atlanta finally got on the scoreboard in the third inning. Dan Uggla walked and Chipper Jones drove him in with a 2-out double to the left field gap. Eric Hinske then tied the game up in the following inning with a solo home run down the right field line.
A pitcher's duel ensued after the home run and the score remained tied until Brian McCann came up with the biggest hit of the night in the tenth inning. After a Jordan Schafer single and Dan Uggla walk, "Heap" hit a monster 3-run homer to the right field seats to give the Braves a lead they would not relinquish. Eric Hinske added an insurance run by driving in Chipper Jones to give the Braves a 6-2 lead.
Craig Kimbrel came in to close out the game and recorded the final three outs despite allowing a meaningless run to cross the plate. Braves win 6-3. With the win, Atlanta has now won five straight games and remain just two games back of the Phillies.
Brian McCann's 3-run homer drove in the 500th RBI of his career.
Dan Uggla, who entered the game with the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in baseball, had two hits and walked twice.
Cory Gearrin was sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett before the game in order to make room for Minor. He'll likely re-join the club in a few weeks.
The Braves will go for a series win and their sixth straight victory tomorrow afternoon. It'll be Tommy Hanson against Brett Meyers. First pitch is at 2:05EDT.
It would be an understatement to say that the Atlanta offense was due. After scoring just seven total runs in a three game sweep of the Florida Marlins, Atlanta scored 11 runs including four home runs in their 11-4 series opening win against the Houston Astros.
The Braves extended their lead to 5-0 with a four run third. Most impressive was that all of the runs came with two outs in the inning. Batting in the No. 2 hole in the order, Dan Uggla doubled with two outs in the inning. Chipper Jones followed with an infield single with Uggla scoring on a throwing error by Houston first baseman Brett Wallace. Freddie Freeman then hit a mammoth home run to right deep into the second deck at Minute Maid Park making the score 4-0. On the next pitch, Alex Gonzalez followed with a homer of his own to left giving the Braves a 5-0 lead and their second back-to-back homers of the season.
Atlanta had another big inning in the fifth. Jordan Schafer singled to lead off the inning and scored on a Chipper Jones single. After another hit from Freddie Freeman, Alex Gonzalez followed with a two-run double making the score 8-1 in favor of Atlanta. Matt Young capped off the scoring in the inning with an RBI single of his own scoring Gonzalez and giving the Braves a commanding 9-1 lead.
The Braves added solo homers from Eric Hinske and Chipper Jones in the seventh and eighth innings to round out their scoring.
Tim Hudson evens his record at 5-5 after allowing seven hits and two runs over six innings of work. Huddy struck out four while walking no one. Scott Proctor and Scott Linebrink each pitched a scoreless inning before Cristhian Martinez ran into trouble in the ninth surrendering three hits and two runs.
For the Astros, Aneury Rodriguez lost for the fourth time this season pitching four innings while allowing six hits and six runs.
Freddie Freeman finished 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBI's on the night. Chipper Jones also had three hits and a homer for the Braves. Alex Gonzalez and Matt Young finished with two hits apiece. Atlanta banged out 14 hits in the game.
The win is Atlanta's fourth in a row and puts them a season high eight games over .500 at 36-28 on the season.
Despite their 24-39 record, the Astros actually have a pretty decent offense. They're ranked seventh in the National League in runs scored and are right in the middle of the pack in team batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases.
The club is led by Hunter Pence (.315/.358/.488, .373 wOBA, 138 wRC+) and it'll be interesting to see how the outfielder performs in the series. Pence has been linked to the Braves earlier this year in trade rumors and a big series could stir up the pot once again. Michael Bourn isn't a great hitter (.275/.343/.368, .338 wOBA, 114 wRC+), but he's incredibly fast and currently has 26 stolen bases. First baseman Brett Wallace (.317/.389/.457, .370 wOBA, 136 wRC+) is having a fine season as their fifth hitter and Jason Bourgeois has played well in limited playing time.
Veteran slugger Carlos Lee and his monster contract aren't having a very good year (.262/.316/.402, .315 wOBA, 98 wRC+) and infielders Clint Barmes (.221/.325/.344, .307 wOBA, 92 wRC+) and Chris Johnson (.228/.271/.398, .287 wOBA, 79 wRC+) have both struggled as well. Catcher J.R. Towles (.210/.297/.352, .291 wOBA, 82 wRC+) doesn't bring much to the lineup and neither does Jeff Keppinger.
We'll likely see something similar to this for the Astros lineup:
Michael Bourn - CF
Jeff Keppinger - 2B
Hunter Pence - RF
Carlos Lee - LF
Brett Wallace - 1B
Chris Johnson - 3B
Clint Barmes - SS
Aneury Rodriguez has struggled this year in Houston. His ERA is 5.28 and his FIP and xFIP aren't very far off (4.97, 4.77). He doesn't strike out many, walks a few too many and relies heavily on fly ball outs. You won't make it very far with that combination. He'll throw a fastball in the low-90's and an above-average slider as hit out-pitch, and he'll occasionally break in a changeup against a left-handed batter.
Jordan Lyles, a right-handed rookie pitcher acquired from Texas in a recent trade, will be making the third start of his career on Saturday against Atlanta. He's currently 0-1 and despite a high ERA of 4.91 his FIP of 2.49 and xFIP of 4.25 show he's been a little better than his numbers indicate. Lyles features five pitches and will throw a low-90's fastball, cutter, curveball, slider and solid changeup.
The veteran right-handed pitcher, Brett Myers, isn't having a good season. He's 2-5 with an ERA, FIP and xFIP of 5.02, 5.33 and 4.23 and his strikeouts are down compared to previous years. After years of being a hard thrower, Myers now features a fastball in the high-80's, a solid slider, curveball and changeup.
Left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez has struggled this year, but he's a capable pitcher who can shut down a lineup on any given night. His ERA, FIP and xFIP (3.41, 3.93, 3.50) indicate he's pitched better than his 3-3 record and he's striking out just over seven batters per nine innings. He'll throw a fastball in the upper-80's, slow curveball and a nasty changeup, especially against right-handed batters.
The Braves should win this series. They're playing well despite injuries and the Astros might be the worst team in baseball. We'll miss Houston's best starter, Bud Norris, and they're likely about to start looking ahead to next year as they sit 13.5 games out in the NL Central.