Tim Hudson threw seven strong for the Atlanta Braves as they took back the National League’s best record in their series win over the San Diego Padres.

At the beginning of the season, it was thought by many that the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals would finish one-two in the National League. At this point of the season, the top two doesn’t currently consist of either of those teams.

Instead, the very surprising Padres and the always-contending Braves held down those spots entering their matchup in the finale of their three-game set at Turner Field.

Atlanta was 55-39, a half-game back of the National League and division-leading Padres, looking not only to take the lead atop the league, but take the series as well.

They had the right pitcher on the mound to accomplish these two feats, Tim Hudson, their ace of five-plus seasons who carried a 9-5 record and a sub-3.00 ERA into his start.

And, not surprisingly, he delivered, feasting on the Padres’ weakness.

What is San Diego’s weakness? Their offense is woefully inconsistent, and far too often, completely nonexistent. How can a team manage 55 wins while ranked 21st in runs scored and 25th in batting average? Their situational hitting has been superb and their pitching has been even better.

Behind the pop out of Adrian Gonzalez‘s bat, time and time again they sneaked by scoring three to four runs per game thanks to a rotation and bullpen that has a combined 3.30 ERA, which is good for second in the majors.

Solid pitching and good enough hitting took a night off, as Hudson baffled the Padres inning after inning, while Clayton Richard struggled out of the gate. Newly acquired shortstop Alex Gonzalez was behind Richard’s struggles.

After a sacrifice fly by Troy Glaus and timely two-out hitting that kept the inning alive, Gonzalez singled in a run in the first—his first run as a Brave to begin what would be a brilliant night at the plate.

Richard had to face him more times than he would have liked. Atlanta scored in the second, so with Hudson cruising along, Gonzalez’s damage in the third went a long way toward sealing a victory. Left fielder Matt Diaz continued his torrid July, lining a single in front of Gonzalez.

The former member of the Florida Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays—who entered the game with 17 homers, 50 RBI, and 26 doubles—socked a Richard slider deep over the head of center fielder and former Eugene Emeralds spark plug Luis Durango for his 27th two-bagger to score Diaz, notching his 52nd RBI and second with the team.

Hudson took this four-run cushion and breezed through San Diego’s order. He tossed a perfect fourth inning against the heart of the order that included Gonzalez, who leads the team in average, homers, hits, RBI, and on-base percentage.

Gonzalez succumbed on the 10th pitch of his plate appearance to begin the inning, getting severely under Hudson’s very effective changeup to become the fourth of eventually six straight retired by the 35-year-old veteran right-hander.

After mowing down the sixth of these Padres, Wil Venable, to end the fourth, Hudson ran into the lone trouble of his outing to begin the fifth.

Scott Hairston lined a single to center and Everth Cabrera was nailed in the foot by an errant slider, putting two runners on with nobody out. He made this hiccup very minor, getting out of the jam unscathed quite easily.

Durango, who entered the appearance with a .487 batting average in 29 Major League at-bats, grounded into a swiftly-turned double play by Gonzalez and second baseman Martin Prado to squash the threat completely thwarted by a groundout by Richard.

Hudson went on to throw two more scoreless innings, lowering his already sparkling ERA to 2.47 while surrendering just four hits and a walk. If the four runs he received while he was on the mound weren’t enough, his offense made sure his 10th win would be the result of his gem.

An offense that ranks 25th this month in runs scored took its anger out on 24-year-old, 6’6″, rookie right-hander Ryan Webb, whose July struggles continued in allowing four runs to cross.

In doing so, Webb allowed four hits, walked two Braves—one intentionally—and hit a batter. Not surprisingly, Gonzalez was right in the middle of the offensive outburst, turning a one-out walk issued to Diaz into a very successful inning that did in the already-cooked Padres.

His frozen-rope single to left on a straight 94-mph fastball was followed by a David Ross RBI-double, a curveball that plunked Eric Hinske on an 0-2 count to force in a run, and then a pair of two-out RBI singles by future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and budding star Jason Heyward.

Hudson had been fairly economical, and though his pitch count was just into triple-digits, he probably could have gone out there for the eighth.

But there was no need.

The Braves had their National League-leading 56th win in the bag and, once two relievers finished off the four-hit shutout, a seven-game advantage over the New York Mets in the division.

With the way the team is put together—a very capable mix of veterans and youth on the mound and at the plate—Atlanta should hold onto their lead over the Padres and Mets for the long haul.

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