Fans eager to see how the Braves stack up with the four-time defending NL East champion Phillies are getting a marquee matchup for Atlanta's home opener.
In a pairing of two of the NL's top starting pitchers, Philadelphia's Cliff Lee will face Atlanta's Tim Hudson on Friday night in an early showdown between teams favored to win the division.
Both teams reached the playoffs last season - the Braves as the wild card after finishing six games behind the Phillies. Philadelphia and Atlanta were eliminated from the postseason by eventual World Series champion San Francisco.
Lee's offseason return after stints with Seattle and AL champion Texas has helped give Philadelphia a rotation regarded as one of baseball's best since the Braves featured Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz from 1993-2002.
Lee (1-0, 3.86 ERA) gave up three runs over seven innings in a 9-4 home win over Houston on Saturday.
The Phillies are leaning on a starting staff that also includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton to help overcome injuries to second baseman Chase Utley, right fielder Domonic Brown and closer Brad Lidge.
The timing of the visit, though, isn't exactly the best for the Braves as their bats have suffered a slow start. Atlanta (3-4) lost the final three games of a four-game set with Milwaukee including 4-2 on Thursday.
"We'll get some home cooking," said new manager Fredi Gonzalez, who's taken over for longtime skipper Bobby Cox. "I think we've got three series at home, so maybe we'll get our bats going."
Catcher Brian McCann said the Braves' start "ain't bad."
"That's the way you've got to look at it," said McCann, currently batting .423. "We were in every ballgame we played and we just weren't able to get the big knock."
Philadelphia (5-1) lost five of nine at Turner Field last season, but come in on a roll that included an 11-0 rout of the Mets on Thursday. Halladay pitched seven sharp innings and Wilson Valdez - Utley's replacement - had a career-high four hits.
The Phillies lead the majors with a .353 team batting average. They are also averaging 7.2 runs and 12.7 hits per game despite the injuries and loss to Jayson Werth as a free agent to Washington.
"It's better than I expected," manager Charlie Manuel said. "But at the same time, we played six games. I don't want to talk about it. It's best not to talk about it and let it happen."
Hudson (1-0, 1.29) opened his season by allowing only one run in seven innings in an 11-2 win at Washington on Sunday.
The right-hander made a successful return from elbow surgery last year, going 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA. He was 2-1 with a 3.79 ERA in three starts against Philadelphia last season, all in Atlanta.
First baseman Ryan Howard could make it a long night for Hudson. He's hitting .341 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 41 career at_bats against him, and .480 overall this season.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has had four two-hit games in 2011, and is batting .375.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved