Friday night at Turner Field it's game one of a three-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers (7-8) and the Atlanta Braves (6-9).
The game will mark the return of former Braves' outfielder Andruw Jones, who after eleven seasons with the Braves signed with the Dodgers last December. Rafael Furcal is also back. He's now in his third year with the Dodgers after six seasons in Atlanta. And Joe Torre returns to Atlanta, where he played from 1966 through 1968 and managed from 1982 through 1984.
It'll be a battle of right-handers in game one as Derek Lowe will go for the Dodgers. The 34-year-old is 1-0 on the season with a 1.80 ERA. Lowe is in his fourth season with the Dodgers. He's 1-1 in his career against the Braves with a 4.13 ERA.
Jeff Bennett makes his second start of the season for the Braves. He came in for the injured Mike Hampton fifteen days ago and allowed two runs in four innings in an emergency start against the Pirates. Bennett's last two outings have been rough, as he's allowed five earned runs in five innings, with five walks, and five strikeouts. He pitched an inning in relief on Wednesday night in Florida.
Bennett will face a Dodgers' lineup that is coming to life a bit. They broke out for eight runs and 15 hits on Wednesday against the Pirates. But one player that has not broke out is Jones, who enters tonight's game with a .157 batting average, no home runs, and two runs batted in. Jones has only eight hits in 51 at bats.
Furcal is one of the Dodgers hitting well so far, as he has a .407 batting average, second in the National League behind his former teammate Chipper Jones. Furcal has two home runs, seven RBI, and two stolen bases.
The Dodgers have Nomar Garciaparra back on the roster. He rejoined the team Wednesday after missing the first couple of weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. Garciaparra made his season debut Wednesday and was 1-2 with a single against Pittsburgh.
In Garciaparra's absence, Blake DeWitt filled in admirably. He's hitting .261 with five RBI. DeWitt had to step in when Andy LaRoche went out in March with thumb surgery and Tony Abreu missed the start of the season with groin trouble.
The young kids for the Dodgers are playing well. First baseman James Loney turns 24 in three weeks, but he's playing like a solid veteran so far with a .364 batting average, two home runs, and eight RBI. Twenty-three year old Matt Kemp is hitting .310, while 26-year-old Andre Eithier is at .308 with two home runs and 11 RBI.
If the Braves get to the Dodgers' bullpen this weekend they'll have to deal with some solid arms. Takashi Saito has two saves in six games as the Dodgers' closer. Jonathan Braxton has been nasty so far as the setup man with a 1.23 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 7.1 innings. Scott Proctor, whom the Braves almost got from the Yankees a few years ago from the Yankees, has struggled with a 6.75 ERA in seven games.
The Braves ended the road trip Thursday in Florida with an 8-0 win over the Marlins. Atlanta got back-to-back-to-back home runs from Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann. Jones was clearly the story on the road trip as he hit .457. Chipper's overall average now stands at .443, which is the best in the National League. He's hit safely in all but one of the Braves' fifteen games.
Yunel Escobar enters tonight's game with a ten-game hitting streak. Escobar was 1-5 Thursday, but he hit .351 on the road trip (13-37).
The Braves hope that Mark Teixeira's home run on Thursday will get him going. Teixeira is hitting .203 for the season, but he's always historically struggled in the month of April. Here are his month-by-month averages in Teixeira's career entering this season:
.251 - April
.292 - May
.278 - June
.277 - July
.300 - August
.293 - September
The Braves got five innings out of John Smoltz Thursday, so they really need to get some innings from their starters this weekend against the Dodgers. Atlanta's starters are averaging just right at five innings per start in 15 games, but the rotation has done well with a 6-5 record and an ERA of 3.41.
Atlanta's bullpen has been less successful than the rotation. It has an 0-4 record and a 4.82 ERA. Now Bobby Cox must find out who will replace Peter Moylan, who was already replacing the injured Rafael Soriano as the team's closer.
Manny Acosta and Blaine Boyer, two hard-throwing right-handers, will be the main candidates to be the closer. Soriano could be back in a week to ten days, however.
On Saturday the Dodgers will send Chad Billingsley to the hill. He's 0-2 with a 5.59 ERA. The Braves are hoping Tom Glavine will make his start Saturday. Glavine did not make it out of the first inning last Sunday in Washington when he had a strained hamstring. Game time is 3:55 and it will be on FOX's Game of the Week.
Hiroka Kuroda (1-1, 2.89) will start for Los Angeles on Sunday in the 1:35 game. He'll oppose Braves' righty Jair Jurrjens, who is 1-2 on the season with a 3.93 ERA.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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