(Sports Network) - Coming off a devastating loss that dealt a serious blow to their postseason chances, the Los Angeles Dodgers will need to bounce back quickly when they head to Turner Field tonight for the first of four consecutive matchups with the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves.
The Dodgers seemed to be on their way to earning a critical series win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, but blew a seven-run lead during the game's final 1 1/2 innings to suffer a shocking 10-9 defeat. The Phillies scored four times in the bottom of the eighth inning to get back it in, then put up four more runs in the ninth to complete the improbable rally.
Los Angeles closer Jonathan Broxton (4-4) came in to protect a 9-6 lead in the bottom of the ninth, but promptly loaded the bases with none out on two walks and a hit batsman. Two runs would then score when third baseman Casey Blake mishandled a ground ball off the bat of Ben Francisco, and the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz followed with a two-run double to end the contest in thrilling fashion.
Philadelphia began its comeback with four runs off relievers Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen in the eighth, with Jayson Werth starting things off with a two-run single and later scoring on a Francisco double.
"The last two innings felt like a week and a half," lamented Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "It's like one of those snowballs going down the hill. It just keeps picking up momentum and we just couldn't put a stop to it."
Matt Kemp went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBI for Los Angeles, which fell to 6 1/2 games behind rival San Francisco for the lead in the NL Wild Card standings after last night's costly loss. Jamey Carroll finished with two hits and a pair of RBI in the setback, with Ronnie Belliard knocking in two runs as well on the night.
The Dodgers have now dropped nine of their last 11 on the road and are a subpar 23-32 as the visitor for the season.
The task doesn't figure to get any easier for Torre's club tonight. Not only are the Braves a major-league best 39-15 at home this year, they'll be sending a red-hot pitcher to the mound for tonight's series opener in staff ace Tim Hudson.
Hudson is riding a sensational four-start stretch in which the veteran hurler has yielded a mere two runs over 28 2/3 innings and won each of those games. That outstanding sequence has improved the 2010 All-Star's season record to 13-5 and lowered his earned run average to an outstanding 2.24, the third-best mark in the NL at the moment.
The right-hander maintained his excellent recent form by limiting San Francisco to three hits over eight shutout innings this past Saturday at Turner Field. The victory was the third straight at home for Hudson, and he's an impressive 8-3 with a 2.00 ERA in 11 starts held in Atlanta this season.
Hudson also has good career numbers against the Dodgers, having amassed a 5-2 record and a 3.89 ERA in 11 lifetime meetings with tonight's foe. He registered a no-decision in a June 6 clash at Dodger Stadium after allowing four runs (three earned) in seven innings of work.
The Braves could use another big outing out of Hudson tonight, as they'll be missing a couple of key cogs in their lineup for this game. All-Star second baseman Martin Prado is currently on the disabled list with a fractured finger, while longtime third baseman Chipper Jones will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in Tuesday's 4-2 win at Houston.
Rookie right fielder Jason Heyward, however, is expected to return to action this evening after sitting out Atlanta's past two contests with a sore right knee.
Philadelphia's rousing win on Thursday moved the Phillies within two games of the idle Braves for the top spot in the NL East. Atlanta has been able to stay on top by winning six of their last eight tilts and returns home off back-to- back triumphs over the Astros on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It was a good series and we took it," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said of the Houston set. "That's all you can really ask of the team. A sweep would be great, but we almost got swept ourselves."
The Braves did need extra innings to prevail in Wednesday's test, but erupted for six runs in the top of the 10th to come away with an 8-2 win. Brian McCann had the big blow for Atlanta, a pinch-hit grand slam with one out that put the game out of reach.
Omar Infante's one-out double in the 10th snapped a 2-2 deadlock, and Alex Gonzalez singled two batters later to give the Braves a two-run cushion.
Billy Wagner (6-2) got the win for Atlanta despite blowing a save opportunity in the bottom of the ninth, when Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee had consecutive singles off the one-time Astros and Chris Johnson followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly.
Hiroki Kuroda will attempt to stop Atlanta's momentum when the Japanese pitcher opposes Hudson tonight. Although he's lost two straight and five of his last six decisions, the right-hander did put together a strong showing in his most recent start.
Kuroda held Washington to two runs and just three hits while racking up eight strikeouts in seven innings Saturday at Dodger Stadium, but did not receive a decision in a game that went into extra frames. That was a notable improvement over his previous effort, when he lasted only four innings and was tagged for five runs (four earned) and seven hits in a home loss to San Diego on August 2.
The 35-year-old will be out to avenge a June 3 defeat to the Braves at Dodger Stadium in which he was reached for four runs (three earned) in six innings. Kuroda is 1-2 in three lifetime starts against Atlanta, despite having pitched to a 2.14 ERA over those appearances.
These teams split a four-game series at Dodger Stadium from June 3-6. Los Angeles has lost in five of its past seven visits to Turner Field, but did take two of three bouts from the Braves there last season.