After their astounding run of 14 straight division titles came to an end last season, the Atlanta Braves set an early tone in the NL East by opening this season with a sweep over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves look to continue their strong start when they open a 10-game homestand with a three-game series against the resurgent Phillies on Monday night.
Atlanta (15-9) is a half-game behind the first-place New York Mets in the National League East, after going 10-14 last April en route to missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
Philadelphia (11-13) is four games behind the Braves, but has won seven of its last nine games after its awful start.
Atlanta held the Phillies to just nine runs in its three-game sweep at Citizen Bank Park to start the season, winning twice in extra innings.
Tim Hudson (3-0, 1.22 ERA) was stellar against Philadelphia in his season debut, and he’ll look to bounce back from a forgettable finish to his last performance when he takes the mound in Monday’s series opener.
Hudson was dominant through eight innings—striking out a career-high 12 and allowing just six hits—on Wednesday, but things unraveled quickly in the ninth. The right-hander gave up three straight singles, and was pulled for closer Bob Wickman, who ultimately allowed all of those runners to cross the plate in the Braves’ 4-3 loss to Florida.
“For me, it’s the most disappointing loss of the season for us,” said Hudson, who had thrown 21 consecutive scoreless innings. “I felt as good as I have all year. But it stings that we didn’t win the ballgame.”
Hudson gave up just one run and two hits in seven innings of Atlanta’s 3-2, 11-inning win over the Phillies on April 4, and is 4-3 with a 3.64 ERA in nine career starts against them.
While Wickman took the loss in Hudson’s last start, he also blew a save opportunity in Sunday’s 9-7, 11-inning defeat to Colorado, allowing two runs in the ninth.
The Braves are 6-4 at home this season, but went just 3-6 against Philadelphia at Turner Field last season.
The Phillies beat Florida 6-1 on Sunday behind a strong pitching performance by Jamie Moyer, who took a no-hit bid into the seventh.
Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins went 2-for-5 with for his third straight multihit game, and is batting .367 (33-for-90) with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 21 games against the Braves since the start of last season.
Chase Utley had an RBI single on Sunday, and is batting .471 (16-for-34) with three homers and 14 RBIs during a season-high nine-game hit streak.
Utley and Rollins have both struggled in their career against Hudson, though, as Utley is 5-for-21 (.238) with seven strikeouts against him, while Rollins is batting just .172 (5-for-29) against the Atlanta ace.
Jon Lieber (1-0, 3.21) takes the hill for Philadelphia.
After starting the season in the bullpen, Lieber has allowed just two runs, six hits and one walk in 11 2-3 innings in his two starts.
The veteran right-hander gave up two runs and five hits in a 9-3 win over Washington on Wednesday for his first victory of the season.
“I was never really worried about being in the bullpen,” Lieber said. “I was fine down there. (Starting) gives me more time to get ready.”
Lieber went 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in two starts against the Braves last season, and has won his last three starts in Atlanta. He is 6-7 with a 3.41 ERA in 18 games—17 starts—in his career against the Braves.