May 5, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielderJustin Upton
(8) high fives with managerFredi Gonzalez
(right) after scoring a run against the New York Mets during the eighth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
On the back of an unexpected rainout (that provided a day of rest) and a nice win on Sunday, the Atlanta Braves have some momentum heading into a 3-game set in Cincinnati against the Reds. Let’s take a look at what to expect when the Braves face-off with a strong Reds club.
Through the team’s first 30+ games, the best starting pitcher on the roster has been Paul Maholm, and he gets a favorable match-up here. Maholm enters the start sporting a glistening 3.08 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in just 38 innings of work. The only real blemish for Maholm was his start in Detroit (where he got hammered for 8 ER), but outside of that start, he’s been lights-out. He’ll face off with Arroyo, and while the righty has been in the game a long, long time now, he’s been a 4.00 ERA-type pitcher for many years. Arroyo is a right-hander, and that will be very interesting for Atlanta, especially in the debut of Brian McCann as he emerges from offseason surgery. It could be critical to get off to a good start in the series (especially on the road), and game 1’s are always important.
Remember when Homer Bailey was a huge prospect? I do, but Bailey’s star has faded in the last few years. However, he’s been very good so far this year (3.38 ERA in 37.1 innings) and in the last three seasons, he’s put up a 2.41 ERA in 3 starts against the Braves. Obviously, that comes with a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT, but Bailey has been throwing much better (when he’s healthy), and he isn’t a punching bag for the bats. On the hill for the Braves is Kris Medlen, and he could really use a lights-out start. Medlen has allowed 3 earned runs or more in three straight starts, and while that doesn’t sound too bad (because it isn’t), it’s a long way from the baseline that he established in the second half of the 2012 campaign. Against the lefty-dominant Reds lineup (hello, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce), Medlen’s change-up will be vital, and it’ll be clear right away whether he has the top-quality stuff that he needs to keep Cincy off of the scoreboard.
Mike Minor day is here (copyright Ben Duronio)! If Maholm has been the best pitcher, Minor has been #1-A, and with the exception of the Detroit series (sensing a trend here?), he’s been tremendous all season long. His opponent on the mound is Mike Leake, and I’m not sure what to make of him. The former 1st-round pick is being challenged for a job by Tony Cingrani (who the Braves luckily miss this week), and Leake hasn’t been terribly impressive. His ERA is up at 4.15 through the young season, and with a strikeout rate under 6 (yikes), Leake’s stuff simply doesn’t seem to be at a high level. The good/bad thing about Leake is that his stuff seems to be platoon-proof, and he won’t fool the right-handers (Upton, Upton, Uggla, etc.) into looking terribly. Hopefully, the Braves will be edging toward a sweep, but if a series win hangs in the balance, I feel fantastic about Minor vs. Leake.
It has been a while since the Braves won a series, but this isn’t the easiest position to be in. Cincinnati is a real, live 90+-win club who is playing in their own ballpark, and with bats like the above-mentioned Votto and Bruce teaming with newcomer Shin Soo Choo, they have a potent offense. Stay tuned for all of the updates as things get interesting in the Great American Ballpark.