After coming off an 11 game road trip and a series win over the Minnesota Twins, many of us would have been content with just getting one win out of this series against the American League's top team, the Tampa Bay Rays. Apparently, the Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson weren't so content. Both pitchers closed out the series with absolutely brilliant performances against one of the most dynamic offenses in all of baseball. Combined, they pitched 14 innings and allowed just one earned run.
With the win the Braves now have the best record in the National League at 39-28 and the best run differential at +61. Since the Braves last lost a series, to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 7-9, they have went 26-10, good for the best record in baseball during that span.
(Recaps are linked in the results)
Tuesday: Rays win 10-4
Wednesday: Braves win 6-2
Thursday: Braves win 3-1
What we liked:
Hanson and Hudson threw gems and extended the Braves streak of consecutive series without a series loss to 12. They have been the Braves two most reliable starters all season and they came through when the Braves needed them most. With the Mets breathing down the Braves neck and coming within a half game of first place, Hanson and Hudson shut down the Rays offense to stay atop the standings.
Troy Glaus came through with two RBI performances in back-to-back games. Glaus, the NL leader in RBI, went just 2-10 in the series, but both of hits drove in two runs a piece. His hit in the second game of the series extended the Braves lead from one to three, and his hit in the final game broke a tie and effectively won the game for the Braves.
Martin Prado continued to stay hot as he hit .429 for the series. All Prado has done since moving to the first spot in the lineup is hit and he actually does deserve to start in the All-Star game. Prior to the season's start, I doubt many thought Prado would be more productive in the first half than Chase Utley.
Billy Wagner threw a six-pitch save to earn his 12th of the year in the series' tightest game. He flew through Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, and Sean Rodriguez in the finale and is now just three saves away from 400 for his career.
Jason Heyward hit his first home run of the month and snapped a homerless streak which began all the way back on May 29. He has now hit safely in four consecutive games and has gotten on base in five straight. Despite striking out three times in the series' final game, his home run was crucial, as the Rays had opened up the scoring in the inning's top half.
What we didn't like:
Kenshin Kawakami had a pretty awful start in the opener and although he allowed just two earned runs over five, he was getting shelled. Kawakami is now facing the pressure of potentially losing his starting spot to Kris Medlen when Jair Jurrjens returns. Although he may keep his spot due to other reasons outside of actual performance, he needs to pitch a bit more effectively if the Braves can rationally keep him in the rotation.
The Braves committed an error in all three games and although they were only hurt by the four errors in the series opener, playing cleaner defense should definitely help. It may seem like nitpicking, but having defensive lapses like they had in the first game will hurt in the long run.
In the first two games of the series, the Braves left a combined 22 men on base. In the opener, they outhit the Rays despite losing 10-4. Leaving men on base at that rate is unacceptable, but they should start to convert more runners into runs as they face lesser competition over the next week of play.
Series MVP: Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson share the award.
Series LVP: Kenshin Kawakami
The Braves get a bit of a schedule break compared to what they have seen as of late. The team with the best home record in baseball gets to play a team with a 15-19 road record in the Kansas City Royals. The Braves run into Zach Grienke on Saturday but have Medlen opposing him. The Sunday battle will feature former Brave Kyle Davies against Kawakami, a good opportunity for Kenshin to get win No. 1 under his belt.