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Defense, battery highlight Braves' romp

Defense, battery highlight Braves' romp

ATLANTA -- After battling through first-half mediocrity last year, Derek Lowe and his Dodgers teammates enjoyed a successful second half that propelled them into the National League Championship Series.

Now with the Braves, Lowe finds himself experiencing a little deja vu. While it's far too early to declare that the veteran hurler will find himself once again pitching in the postseason spotlight, there's already plenty of indication why his All-Star catcher was so excited about the second half of the season.

Attempting to at least keep pace with Martin Prado's hot-hitting ways, Brian McCann supplied another four-RBI performance and marveled at the defensive gem that Yunel Escobar provided while supporting Lowe in Tuesday night's 8-1 win over the Giants at Turner Field.

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"We had everything tonight -- the pitching, the defense and the hitting," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "There will be some highlights defensively with the ballgame."

While becoming the first team to total 19 runs in consecutive games against the Giants this year, the Braves saw McCann highlight their 12-hit performance with a back-breaking three-run, fourth-innning homer.

But before totaling each of their eight runs in the first four innings against rookie right-hander Ryan Sadowski, the Braves saw Escobar and Prado turn a dazzling first-inning double play that prevented the Giants from generating some early momentum against Lowe.

"It was beautiful," Cox said of the double play, which started with a diving Prado flipping to Escobar, who vaulted off the second-base bag and made a pinpoint throw to first base while leaping over John Bowker's slide.

Instead of surrendering what would have likely been a Travis Ishikawa RBI single, Lowe found himself heading toward the dugout unscathed and journeying toward a six-inning effort that was blemished by just one earned run and seven hits.

Escobar, who capped a three-run third inning with an RBI single, said he'd rank the double-play turn as the finest of his young career.

"Tonight was just phenomenal defense," Lowe said. "It seemed like every inning somebody was making a phenomenal play. It started off in the first inning with the tremendous double play and that makes my job so much easier because you're having those quick innings."

Lowe, who is 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA in his past nine starts against the Giants, was afforded an early lead when McCann introduced himself to Sadowski with a first-inning RBI double. The Braves' All-Star catcher then flexed his muscles in the fourth inning with the three-run homer that chased the rookie starter, who was charged with eight earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings.

"You run into a hot offense and you make bad pitches and they make you pay," said Sadowski, who had surrendered just two earned runs in his previous three career starts.

While scoring 5.68 runs per game since Prado became an everyday member of their lineup, the Braves have won 13 of 19 games and positioned themselves in the thick of the National League Wild Card chase, which had been led by the Giants before they lost Monday night's series opener.

"This is a team we need to beat," Lowe said. "They're ahead of us in the Wild Card chase. So, so far, so good."

While the Braves aren't likely to make the Manny Ramirez-like Trade Deadline acquisition that fueled last year's Dodgers, they have provided Lowe and the rest of their pitchers with the benefit of a daily dose of Prado, who has hit .393 (33-for-84) over the past 19 games.

Prado singled and scored during three of the first four innings against Sadowski, whose troubles escalated when he allowed Lowe to begin Atlanta's three-run third inning with a single to center. The veteran hurler scored on an RBI double provided by Chipper Jones, who crossed the plate on Escobar's run-scoring single.

"There's nothing better than clicking on all cylinders," said McCann, who has hit .375 with two homers and nine RBIs since exiting the All-Star Game with the declaration that he had never previously been more excited about the second half of a season.

Lowe, who has posted a 2.50 ERA in the three starts that have followed a forgettable eight-start stretch that included just one win, says that while winning five of their first six games out of the All-Star break, the Braves have already produced similarities that remind him of last year's Dodgers.

"What I learned last year is that you can't necessarily worry about what everybody else is doing," Lowe said. "We couldn't have come out in the second half this year and played any better."

Mark Bowman 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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