Dodgers, Braves on the rise

Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:31 PM ET

The Atlanta Braves have vaulted themselves to the top of the National League East by virtue of an impressive recent run of success. The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping their own surge of late can propel the defending NL West champions back into first place of their division.

The two red-hot teams resume a four-game series this evening at Dodger Stadium, where the Braves will attempt to bounce back from their first defeat in more than a week.

Atlanta extended its winning streak to nine games with a 4-3 decision in Thursday's series opener, but the Dodgers drew even via a 5-4 verdict in last night's second test of this set. The win was the fifth in six games for Los Angeles and moved Joe Torre's club within a half-game of first-place San Diego in the NL West race.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney snapped a 4-4 tie with a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton combined to hold the Braves scoreless over the final two frames to seal the victory. Kuo (1-1) earned the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Clayton Kershaw, who struck out eight over 6 2/3 innings but was charged with four runs allowed (three earned).

Rafael Furcal added an RBI triple and scored twice for Los Angeles, which blew an early 4-0 advantage before regaining the lead on Loney's clutch base hit off reliever Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh.

"We're not going to quit," said Torre. "I thought Clayton threw very well, and Loney looked for a pitch and he got it."

Yunel Escobar went 3-for-4 with three RBI for Atlanta and tied the contest at 4-4 with a two-run double in the top of the seventh. Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami was saddled with his eighth straight loss to begin the season, however, after allowing the go-ahead run to reach base in the bottom of the inning.

Kawakami (0-8) was charged with five runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings, and still hasn't notched a win since August 31 of last season.

"He struggled a little early, got some pitches up in the zone. Then he pitched well after that, gave us a chance to win," said Braves catcher David Ross of Kawakami. "We just ran into a really good pitcher tonight that had our number."

Atlanta, which had been riding its longest win streak since a franchise-best 15-game tear from April 16-May 2, 2000, currently holds a two-game edge on Philadelphia for first place in the East.

The Braves will turn to Tommy Hanson in hopes of starting a new streak tonight. The talented young righty has bounced back strongly from a disastrous outing against Cincinnati on May 20 with back-to-back winning efforts over fellow NL East members Florida and Philadelphia, which upped his season record to 5-3 and lowered his earned run average to 3.78.

Hanson was rocked for eight runs and eight hits before being lifted after 1 2/3 innings against the Reds, but returned to throw six frames of two-run ball to defeat the Marlins on May 26. He was even better in Sunday's 9-3 home win over the Phillies, yielding just one run and three hits while lasting 6 2/3 innings.

The 23-year-old went 11-4 with an impressive 2.89 ERA as a rookie last season, but one of those defeats came at the hands of the Dodgers last July. In that game Hanson was reached for four runs and eight hits in six innings.

Chad Billingsley will put a personal winning streak of his own on the line when he takes the mound for the Dodgers tonight. The 2009 All-Star has won four consecutive decisions and recorded a 2.45 ERA over his last five starts, while racking up 35 strikeouts in a 33-inning span.

Billingsley did not pick up a victory his last time out, but struck out a season-best 11 Arizona hitters without a walk in an eight-inning no-decision against the Diamondbacks. He allowed four runs on the night, all of which came in the first two innings as a result of three homers.

The former first-round pick has faced Atlanta six times previously -- four as a starter -- but is just 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA lifetime against Atlanta. That lone win took place at Turner Field last August, when Billingsley fanned nine over five scoreless innings and permitted just two hits.

Los Angeles lost four of seven meetings with Atlanta a year ago and had dropped four in a row in this series -- all at Dodger Stadium -- prior to Friday's win.


Videos

Photos