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Braves short hops

Braves short hops

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HOUSTON -- You can talk about the bullpen struggles, bad breaks and inconsistent hitting.

There's been another trend that has gone against the Braves in the first three games of their National League Division Series with the Astros.

In all three games, the Astros have scored in the first inning. Saturday night they pushed across two runs in the first, sending eight batters to the plate. While the Braves were able to tie the game at 2 in the second inning, they have set a tone for falling behind early.

Considering the Astros are throwing out strong starting pitchers like Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt, Saturday's starter, playing catchup is not ideal.

To contain the Astros in the first inning, Braves starters have to contend with leadoff hitter Craig Biggio, who had three doubles on Saturday.

Biggio opened the series with a single off Tim Hudson in Game 1, and he scored. John Smoltz struck out Biggio to start off Game 2, although the Astros still managed to score a run that game. And on Saturday, Biggio doubled and scored against Jorge Sosa.

Behind the numbers
In the first three games of the series, the Braves bullpen has had its struggles, giving up nine earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. That's a 12.78 ERA. The bullpen allowed four runs in the seventh inning in Saturday's 7-3 loss.

Vitals check
A look at key statistics through Game 3 of the NLDS.

Team stats

Digits Trend The Deal
ERA 6.23 Bullpen woes continue to drive up ERA
BA .283 Oswalt on his game can do that to an offense
BA w/RISP .370 (10-for-27) Going 2-for-9 doesn't cut it against good pitching
Runs 15 Andruw Jones stays hot, the rest of lineup was not

Who's hot?

Player Digits Trend The Deal
Andruw Jones .636 BA, 1 HR, 7 Hits, 4 RBIs Single-handedly carrying the attack. Three more hits Saturday
Brian McCann .250 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBIs Making most of his hits, delivering an RBI single Saturday

Who's not?

Player Digits Trend The Deal
Chris Reitsma 40.50 ERA, 6 ER, 1 1/3 innings Both batters he faced reached and scored in seventh

Frozen moment
Starter Jorge Sosa had weathered a rough first inning, and his RBI single in the second inning tied the game at 2. In the third inning, Sosa was on his way to retiring the heart of the Houston order when he struck out Lance Berkman and then got Morgan Ensberg on a flyout to center. But Sosa fell behind Mike Lamb, 2-1, and the left-handed-hitting first baseman then delivered a home run to right field, giving the Astros the lead for good.

Second guess
Based on his struggles in the postseason, it would be easy to second guess opening the seventh inning with Reitsma. But it's tough to argue the choice, since Reitsma has been the best option in an otherwise struggling relief corps. Trailing, 3-2, at the start of that inning, Reitsma allowed a leadoff double to Biggio and an infield hit to Willy Taveras. Both runners scored in a four-run Houston rally that broke the game open.

Modern history
Since the Division Series began in 1995, the Braves are 4-1 when they've been involved in a Game 4 situation. Trailing Houston, 2-1, here is a look at the Braves' Game 4 Division Series results:

1995: Braves 10, Rockies
1999: Braves 7, Astros 5
2002: Giants 8, Braves 3
2003: Braves 6, Cubs 4
2004: Braves 6, Astros 5

Last word
"You don't start the season 15-30 and make the playoffs without driving in some runs."
-- Chipper Jones, on the perception the Astros are weak offensively

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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