Sunday Night Baseball Preview

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    With Jair Jurrjens taking the mound, the Atlanta Braves have a good chance to win their lone home series in a 17-day span. That will require a second straight victory over the best team in the majors as the Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers decide their three-game set Sunday night at Turner Field. These games are Atlanta’s only home contests between July 24 and Aug. 9, a stretch that came just as the Braves have won 11 of 14 at home. Jurrjens (9-7, 2.69 ERA) has won all three of his starts at Turner Field in that span, allowing one earned run and six hits in 20 2-3 innings.

    Atlanta’s latest home loss was a 5-0 defeat in Friday’s series opener, but the Braves (53-51, -6.8 units) bounced back with a 4-3 victory Saturday afternoon, giving them their ninth win in last 12 games as home favorite.

    With an offense that has been inconsistent for much of the year, Atlanta has relied on strong pitching—its 3.74 ERA is among the lowest in the majors—to stay within striking distance in the NL East and wild-card races. Derek Lowe turned in a quality start Saturday to win his first game against his former team.

    Jurrjens has been perhaps the Braves’ best pitcher this season, with his ERA leading the team’s starters and ranking among the top six in the NL.

    The right-hander has been especially hot lately; going 3-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four starts overall. He failed to win his fourth straight outing Tuesday against Florida, but still allowed just two runs in six innings of Atlanta’s 4-3 loss. He is 20-8 after a win over the last three seasons. (Braves Record)

    Jurrjens beat the Dodgers twice last year, allowing two runs and eight hits in 13 innings and has won his last five starts against NL West clubs. He’ll again face Los Angeles’ Chad Billingsley after beating him in Atlanta’s 9-3 victory July 8, 2008.

    The Dodgers (64-40, +17.6 units) aren’t feeling much heat with a comfortable lead in the NL West, but Billingsley (10-6, 3.96) is under some pressure after his recent struggles. The right-hander won nine of his first 12 decisions and had a 2.72 ERA on June 14, but since then he’s 1-3 with a 6.46 ERA in eight starts, including 1-4 if opponent had winning record.

    He allowed one hit through five shutout innings Tuesday against St. Louis, but gave up six runs and couldn’t get out of the sixth in a 10-0 loss, walking a season-high six. Still, Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he had “good stuff” and seemed optimistic about Billingsley’s progress. “It got to the point, in a close game, it just looked to me like he was trying to make every pitch perfect,” Torre told the Dodgers’ official Web site. “That was about as good and loose and free I’ve seen him in a while.”

    Besides his loss to Jurrjens, Billingsley also lost to the Braves in his first start against them April 19, 2008. In the two outings, the right-hander walked nine and allowed nine earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

    The newest Brave, Adam LaRoche, has homered twice off Billingsley in four at-bats. LaRoche, traded from Boston to Atlanta on Friday after being shipped from Pittsburgh to the Red Sox nine days earlier, went 2 for 3 with a walk Saturday to begin his second stint with the Braves.

    “This turned out great,” LaRoche said. “I’m not going to lie and say Boston wasn’t fun. I did not see this coming at all. But if I was going to go anywhere from Boston, this is where I would want to be.” Atlanta has won six of seven at Turner Field against right-hand starters.

    DiamondSportsbook.com has established Atlanta as -120 money line favorites with total having shrunk to 7.5. The Braves are 5-1 in Game 3’s of late and 6-2 if Jurrjens is the starter. Atlanta is 12-3 UNDER when the 23-year old takes the ball and the money line is +125 to -125.

    Andre Ethier is the Dodgers hottest hitter, going 4 for 9 with two home runs and five RBIs in the series. He’s 2 for 3 with three walks in his career against Jurrjens. Los Angeles will need his bat and they are 20-7 vs. a starting pitcher who gives up 5.5 or less hits a start this season. L.A. is 9-2 OVER after allowing four runs or less four straight games this season.

    ESPN of course will have the coverage starting just after 8 Eastern, with Torre’s club 23-9 in Game 3 of a series. These teams will meet four times at Dodger Stadium starting Thursday.

    Mike Lipka, STATS writer contributed to this article.

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