Solid starting pitching is a major reason the Atlanta Braves have built a sizable lead atop the NL East, and the rotation has been especially stellar since the calender turned to June.
Mike Minor looks to continue the trend as he faces the host Los Angeles Dodgers in the finale of this four-game series Sunday.Atlanta (38-24) has a 7 1/2-game lead in the division, due in large part to a pitching staff that boasts a 3.17 ERA that's the best in baseball. The starters' 3.38 mark ranks third, and that ERA has been improving steadily through the month.The Braves are 6-2 in June, and Kris Medlen's performance Saturday gave the rotation a 0.98 ERA in those games as he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory.No starter has given up more than two earned runs while the rotation has recorded 45 strikeouts during the hot stretch."Our starting pitching's been the backbone of this team," said second baseman Dan Uggla, who homered Saturday. "They've been so consistent and kept us in ballgames, and they battle. They've just done an amazing job, going deep into games and taking a little stress off of our bullpen."Minor (7-2, 2.52 ERA) hasn't lost in his past seven starts and has not allowed more than two earned runs in his last six, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA during that stretch. He gave up four runs but only two earned in six innings of a 5-4, 10-inning win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.The left-hander has gone 0-1 with a 2.52 ERA in four career starts versus the Dodgers. He allowed two runs and struck out nine in six innings of a 5-2 win May 19, though he didn't get the decision.Matt Magill made his fourth career start and allowed one run and struck out eight in five innings in that contest for the Dodgers, and he'll oppose Minor again Sunday. Ted Lilly had been scheduled to be on the mound but was scratched due to chronic neck pain."He's going to have to give us more assurance than he thinks he'll be OK," manager Don Mattingly said of Lilly. "He has to be fairly certain he can go out and compete."Magill (0-1, 6.38) was sent to Triple-A Albuquerque after a dismal outing last Sunday, when he walked nine and gave up seven runs in six innings of a 7-2 loss to Colorado.Mattingly is hoping Magill has recovered from that poor showing during his time back in the minors."Magill has thrown a few (bullpen sessions) down there to help 'detox,'" Mattingly said. "He's a tough kid, and I think he recognized his rough start as a learning situation."He'll look to bounce back against a Braves lineup that has managed three runs in the series. Los Angeles (27-34) won Thursday's opener 5-0 before a 2-1, 10-inning victory Friday.Yasiel Puig went 2 for 4 on Saturday after hitting a grand slam Thursday and homering again Friday. The highly touted rookie is 10 for 23 (.435) with four homers and 10 RBIs as the Dodgers have gone 4-2 since he was called up Monday.Hanley Ramirez had a pinch-hit RBI single Saturday after not starting for the third straight game due to a sore left hamstring. It's uncertain if he'll be in lineup for this contest.The Braves have won four of six meetings with the Dodgers this season.