Braves close first half on high note
Victory gives Atlanta first non-losing road trip of season
SAN DIEGO -- For many reasons, the first half of this season was forgettable for the Braves. But before entering the All-Star break, they enjoyed a memorable afternoon and possibly generated some momentum to carry into the season's second half.
Ignoring the multitude of offensive struggles that were present at the beginning of this road trip, the Braves released many of their frustrations at PETCO Park on Sunday afternoon. As a result, they claimed a 12-3 win over the Padres and provided the type of performance that they hope proves to be more common during the second half.
"It's a great win for us," said Chipper Jones, who was the only member of the Braves' starting lineup who didn't contribute to the 16-hit attack. "You want to go into the break with a couple of wins under your belt."
While winning the final two games against the Padres, the Braves claimed victories in consecutive road games for just the third time this season. This was just the third road series they've won this year and by splitting this six-game West Coast road swing, they completed their first non-losing road trip of the season.
"I don't know what the other guys are saying, but I looked at this as a do-or-die series for us," said Braves shortstop Brent Lillibridge, who improved his batting average from .133 to .237 by collecting five hits in eight at-bats during the final two games of this series.
Lillibridge's career-best, three-hit performance on Sunday was matched by Brian McCann, who collected a first-inning RBI single, a seventh-inning solo homer and ninth-inning double, before boarding a charter jet that would take him, Jones and head athletic trainer Jeff Porter to New York to enjoy their All-Star Game experience.
While McCann will serve as a backup catcher, Jones will make his fifth All-Star start at third base and Porter will serve as one of the National League's trainers.
"I can't wait to see the look on my dad's face when we interact with the greats of the game," said Jones, who enters the All-Star break with a Major League-best .376 batting average.
Although Jones was a consistent contributor throughout the first half, the Braves never were able to get on a roll. After claiming a 17-inning win over the Astros last Sunday, the momentum they were hoping would follow was subdued less than 24 hours later, when they didn't generate their first baserunner until the eighth inning against Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda.
Two nights later, Derek Lowe's bid for a perfect game against the Braves ended in the seventh inning. Then to prolong these offensive frustrations, manager Bobby Cox's team begin this three-game series against the Padres by being shut out for the ninth time this season.
But on Sunday, everything came together and Cox was able to collect win No. 2,300 for his career. Still when asked to assess the first half, the veteran manager could only utter the truth by saying, "It was a tragedy because of all of the injuries."
The fact that the Braves are entering the break 6 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East race is surprising when you consider Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens are the only members remaining from the originally planned starting rotation.
One of the midseason additions, who has kept things respectable, has been Jorge Campillo, who finished his first half by allowing two earned runs in six innings on Sunday. It was a strong effort for the native of Tijuana, Mexico, who had purchased 46 tickets for friends and family members that were in attendance.
During the two previous starts Campillo had made in California, the Braves had been shut out.
"It was the same, I just got help from the offense," said Campillo, who had seen the Braves score one run or fewer while he was still the pitcher of record in four of his past five starts.
Campillo, who won for just the second time in nine starts, was forced to exit after fouling a seventh-inning pitch off the side of his left foot. With a 9-2 lead, Cox didn't want to take any chances. But the 29-year-old right-hander is expected to make his next start. Before Campillo threw his first pitch on Sunday, Mark Teixeira had started his two-hit day with a two-run single off Randy Wolf. The Braves blew things open during a five-run sixth-inning that included RBI singles from Mark Kotsay, Lillibridge, Gregor Blanco and Martin Prado. Jones capped the inning with a sacrifice fly.
"We've got the offense to do this," said McCann, who enters the break having reached safely in seven straight plate appearances. "Now we just need everybody to start hitting at the same time."
With a significant lead and the opportunity to get Hudson some work to interrupt the lengthy layoff he'll have with the All-Star break, Cox gave his ace his first career relief appearances. Hudson, who has made 301 career starts, responded with a perfect eighth inning.
After Mike Gonzalez surrendered a homer to Chase Headley and then ended the ninth inning, the Braves began to scatter. Many were returning to Atlanta on the team charter. Some were staying in California with family members and the aforementioned trio was heading to New York for the All-Star Game.
Wherever they were going, the Braves left San Diego happy about the fact the first half had ended and hopeful that they'll be able to make a run during the season's second half.
"If we swing the bats like we did today, it's going to be pretty easy," Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.