Having overcome their slow start, the two-time reigning NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers have the division lead in their sights.
The Dodgers have to like their chances to reach that plateau with the red-hot Chad Billingsley(notes) on the mound. The Atlanta Braves, however, will counter with a resurgent Tommy Hanson(notes) as they try to bounce back from the end of their lengthy winning streak.
While Billingsley will attempt to earn his fifth straight win, Hanson will try to prevail in his third consecutive start as the Dodgers and Braves continue their four-game series at Chavez Ravine on Saturday night.
Los Angeles entered this season attempting to earn three consecutive playoff berths for the first time in its storied history but dropped 14 of its first 22 games.
The Dodgers, who trailed San Diego by six games April 29, caught the Padres on May 21 but couldn’t overtake them. Winning four of five, including a 5-4 victory over the Braves (32-23) in Friday’s series opener, has pulled Los Angeles (32-23) back within one-half game of San Diego.
After the Dodgers blew an early four-run lead, James Loney(notes) put them back ahead to stay with an RBI single in the seventh inning to snap Atlanta’s nine-game win streak. The victory was the Dodgers’ sixth in a row by one run.
Billingsley had won four consecutive starts with a 1.80 ERA entering Monday’s outing against Arizona. He allowed all four of his runs to the Diamondbacks on three homers in the first two innings, but settled down to last eight innings and strike out a season-high 11 without a walk. Though he didn’t get the decision, he kept Los Angeles in position to win, which it eventually did on a game-ending balk.
“I got some fastballs up and they got it in the air and they left the ballpark. You can’t do anything about it,” Billingsley said. “Even after those two innings, I still knew I had good stuff, so I stayed with my game plan and just kept being aggressive.”
After dropping his first two career starts against the Braves in 2008, Billingsley was 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two matchups last season. To earn another victory, he’ll have to outduel Hanson (5-3, 3.78).
Since getting tagged for eight runs in 1 2-3 innings against Cincinnati on May 20, Atlanta’s right-hander has yielded three total runs while winning his last two outings. He gave up one run and three hits over 6 2-3 innings Monday to help the Braves (32-23) earn a 9-3 win over Philadelphia and overtake the Phillies for the NL East lead.
During his 11-4 rookie campaign, Hanson took a 5-0 loss in his only start against the Dodgers on July 31 at home. He allowed four runs and eight hits over six innings.
Like Los Angeles, Atlanta dropped 14 of 22 to open the season and is 24-9 since.