Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 6/12/13
The Atlanta Braves were swept for just the second time in 2013, falling to the San Diego Padres 5-3 Wednesday afternoon to drop the three-game series. Here are three observations: 1. Padres starters owned the Braves' lineup throughout the series Edinson Volquez entered Wednesday's game sporting one the National League's worst ERAs (6.33) and had been tagged for 11 earned runs in two prior June starts. But, as turned out to be the case all week against the Padres, the Braves lineup could not figure him out. With an early 3-0 lead to work with, Volquez, the 29-year-old starter who's served previous stints in Texas and Cincinnati, went seven innings allowing just one earned run and (to no surprise) striking out a season-high nine batters. And though he did walk three Braves hitters again, no surprise, as Volquez (5-5) has issued 4.86 walks per nine innings over the course of his career Atlanta never really challenged the Padres lead until relief pitchers took the mound. Joining up with Jason Marquis and Andrew Cashner, Volquez and the Padres starting rotation was the primary key to the series sweep. Despite entering the home series with one of baseball's worst team ERA and FIP (fielding-independent pitching) numbers among starting pitchers, the Padres triumvirate pitched 22 23 innings and allowed just five earned runs. On the flip side, Braves starters (26-21, baseball's third-best starters' ERA) allowed 12 earned runs over the three-game stretch. If it weren't for a rather lackluster series for an underwhelming Padres bullpen, the final scores would have been even more lopsided. 2. Justin Upton's homer-less streak is history Back in April, when the 25-year-old Braves outfielder looked every bit like a legitimate MVP candidate, the thought of him suffering a drought seemed outlandish, especially in terms of power numbers. He sent 12 baseball flying over the fence that month, a franchise record, and there seemed to be no end in sight. And though a pace of 97 home runs was always going to prove unsustainable, Upton's powerless stretch in May (three home runs) was a bit surprising. Entering Wednesday's game, his last homer came on May 17 against Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez. Well Paco, you are being let off the hook. Upton hit his 15th home run of the season on a 78-mph pitch from Padres reliever Joe Thatcher, a towering shot into the left field bleachers he patrolled in front of this week. It was, as should be obvious, his longest homer-less streak of the season. He finished the game going 2-for-5 with two RBI, although he did suffer the game's final out when reliever Dale Thayer caught him looking on an inside fastball (dicey location) for the third and final strike. The Padres series marked the first time Upton has registered a hit in each game since the Colorado series back in late April. That was 13 opponents ago. Since then, the right fielder's batting numbers have plummeted from .316.402.797 to .250.359.496. He still holds a respectable 1.8 wins above replacement (WAR) nearly matching last season's production but, at this rate, there's still a sizable distance between his 2011 (6.0 WAR) and 2013 numbers. Perhaps a strong series against a familiar opponent Upton has now hit 17 career home runs against San Diego, tied for his best mark versus any opponent (Colorado) will help put such a difficult stretch behind him. (Side note: Upton put Thatcher's pitch in the outfield bleachers on a 2-2 count. Over the course of the season, he was hitting just .168.268.343 in two-strike counts. However, eight of his 24 hits in such situations have cleared outfield walls. Joe Thatcher was one of the few to learn that the hard way in 2013.) 3. The loss capped off the Braves' most underwhelming series of 2013 Without exaggeration, and with a tip of the cap to the brutal Tigers series in late April, the three-game sweep by the Padres was the worst and most unexpected series result for the Braves this season. On their way into Petco Park on Monday, the Braves had not dropped a series since May 12-15 (Arizona), holding onto a 39-24 record and dominating the NL East standings. That all changed against a 29-34 Padres club. The Braves continuously dug themselves into holes not even the San Diego bullpen could help pull them out of, and the end result was, at least in one writer's opinion, even worse than the 25-7 combined shellacking the Tigers a premier World Series contender put on the Braves earlier in the year. Sorry, but a Marquis-Cashner-Volquez three-game rotation does not match Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Porcello and Doug Fister. And Chase Headley is certainly not Miguel Cabrera. The loss sent Atlanta to a losing road record this season (18-19), dropping 20 of their past 31 games away from Turner Field. Fortunately for the Braves, the NL East remains toothless and their lead is still substantial. Still, this was surely not the final western swing the team had in mind.
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