The Game to Watch: Dodgers vs. Braves

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LADugout.com has the first installment of "The Game to Watch". Each week, the best match up will be selected, broken down, and previewed. For the inaugural edition, the Dodgers face the surging Atlanta Braves on Sunday. Like the Braves, the Dodgers are also reaping the rewards of consistent pitching, having won six of their last eight home games. Tyson Qualls previews the contest.

The Pitching:

Sunday's contest will feature two competitive pitchers on both ends of their careers. Tim Hudson, at age 34, is currently experiencing a renaissance with an impressive 5-1 record and a 2.20 ERA. Hudson hasn't lost since April 21st when he was on the wrong side of the 2-0 pitching duel. The ex-Oakland Athletic hasn't pitched this consistently since his days in the Bay Area. Hudson is on pace to post the lowest ERA total of his career.

Rookie sensation John Ely will oppose the veteran with the hopes of continuing his superb start. After a rocky outing on April 28th, Ely has yet to allow more than two runs in a start. He has also posted a tremendous 28:3 strikeout to walk ratio. The Braves hitters will have their hands full trying to out smart the young right-hander.

The Hitting:

With the return of Andre Ethier, the Dodgers finally have a healthy offense to help carry the load. The Boys in Blue struggled less than expected with the absence of Ethier, but leaned heavily on the pitching staff.

The Dodgers may need more help than usual from Casey Blake. Blake hit a whopping .455 against the Braves at Dodger Stadium last season. He also added a home run, and four runs batted in, while compiling 5 hits in 11 at bats.

Matt Kemp and James Loney couldn't seem to find an answer to the Braves' staff. Both posted averages below .200 and neither batted in a single run. Will all injured starters back in the line up; the offense no longer has an excuse for a lack of production. The lone upside is that in the past five seasons, the only current Dodger to go deep on Hudson was Kemp in 2007.

Martin Prado and Jason Heyward lead an offense that was once the lone territory of Chipper Jones. The senior member of the Braves has struggled mightily in his seventeenth season. Jones has lacked the pop of his previous seasons and has been unable to hit for average. His current pace has him headed for the second lowest average and fewest home run output of his career. As he approaches the twenty-season mark, two questions remain: Will he be like Ken Griffey Jr. and stay too long? Or has he already done so?

While Jones slowly fades out of the game, the Braves have the young and dangerous tandem of Prado and Heyward to lead the transition. Prado has jumped out of the gate, hitting at a .323 clip while scoring 38 runs. Heyward was practically a legend before his first swing and has not disappointed. The 21 year old has already crushed 10 homers while keeping a respectable .292 average.

Ely will certainly have to be on his game, if he is going to keep up the less than two runs per game quota.

X Factor: Russell Martin

Martin has not lived up to his expectations after breaking into the league in 2006. The Dodgers' backstop is currently hitting at the lowest rate of his career. In spite of last season's abysmal year, Martin found success against the Braves. He was able to gather 9 hits in 25 at bats, while striking out only twice. His .360 average against the Braves was a full point above his season rate of .250. If Martin can continue his spirited hitting against Atlanta, the Dodgers will play streak stoppers in this weekend's series.

Questions or Comments? Contact Tyson Qualls at tysonqsports@gmail.com; Follow him on Twitter with @tysonqsports, or via Facebook.

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