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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Series Cynic: Braves' bats come alive, but for how long?

Cynicism

Cynicism Nutshell: For the second time this season, the Atlanta Braves (16-18) were somehow able to pull off a three-game sweep.

And boy did they need it.

Losers of two consecutive series and four of their last six games, the Braves entered Monday's series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers in search of offensive consistency and, more importantly, some wins.

Fortunately for the Braves, they got both as they would outscore the Brewers 28-7 and compile a team batting average of .307 over the final three games of Atlanta's nine-game road trip.

The Braves scored eight runs or more in consecutive games for the first time in 2010 and no longer solely occupy the last spot in the National League East standings — now sharing it with the Florida Marlins.

However, with every impressive performance comes several hidden flaws that are yearning to be brought to the light ... so here we go.

The Bad: Jurrjens still M.I.A.

Although Tommy Hanson pitched great (8 IP, 0 R, 8 K) in the series opener, veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson struggled.

Atlanta's eldest starters were 2-0 in the series but combined to pitch a mere 12 innings, allowing 14 hits and 8 walks while striking out just three Milwaukee hitters.

Hudson, 34, Lowe, 36, and Kawakami, 34, are old and simply can't go as deep into ballgames as Bobby Cox would like which is why the younger Hanson, 23, and Jurrjens, 24, are such vital assets to the rotation with their ability to pitch into the seventh and eighth innings with ease.

There's no clear timetable for JJ's return but getting this rotation's No. 2 starter back ASAP is a must unless the Braves' bats can continue to score 10 runs per.

The Worst: Atlanta saw the Brewer's only decent pitcher in Yovani Gallardo but Dave Bush and Doug Davis aren't very good.

Troy Glaus hit two home runs, Eric Hinske went 4-for-6 and had 4 RBIs, plus Jason Heyward looks really nice in the No. 3 hole but it's hard to tell how much of that success is here to stay and not just a byproduct of Milwaukee's below average pitching.

Bush and Davis are a combined 2-7 with a 5.74 ERA through 14 starts this season and were the perfect remedy for a struggling Atlanta lineup in need of an offensive boost.

We can only hope that this week's offensive surge wasn't an aberration or the result of crummy Brewer pitching.

The Apocalyptic: When and where will we find a lead-off hitter?

Despite the Braves solid performance inside the batter's box against the Brewers, the lead-off dilemma is still lurking as Atlanta lead-off hitters are batting a measly .158 this season.

Nate McLouth and Omar Infante combined to go 1-for-10 in the No. 1 slot during the three games at Miller Park.

Atlanta leads the Majors in walks with 159 but a mediocre on-base percentage of .337 (ninth highest in the N.L.) has hampered the Braves all season long.

Until either McLouth, Infante, Melky Cabrera or Martin Prado emerges as a dependable table setter, Bobby Cox may have to do something drastic like plug Jason Heyward into the lead-off role.

Why not? He leads the team in on-base percentage (.431), is second in total bases (57) and is one of just three Atlanta hitters with a batting average north of the .300 mark.

Oh yeah. Did I mention he can steal bases now, too?

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