Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) reacts with catcher Brian McCann (16) and center fielder B.J. Upton (2) after scoring the game winning run against the Minnesota Twins during the tenth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Twins 5-4 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Braves have won three consecutive series, and, in the process, 8 of their last 9 games. This week brings a new challenge, as the Braves will square off with the AL’s Toronto Blue Jays for four games. Uniquely, the week is split into two 2-game series, with the first two in Toronto followed by two more in Atlanta, but for the purposes of this space, it will be treated as one series. Let’s take a look at what to expect.
Monday, May 27th – 7:07 PM ET (in Toronto) – Tim Hudson vs. Mark Buehrle
Last week, Tim Hudson came back after an hour-plus rain delay to quell the Minnesota Twins lineup and set the stage for a Braves victory. Sounds about right, huh? Hudson isn’t the dominant #1 starter that he’s been in previous years anymore, but he’s ultra-reliable, and he’s also the type of ground-ball pitcher that can excel in the home-run-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays have a power-laden lineup, but they’ve struggled mightily in the early going, as they enter with a 21-29 record. Mark Buehrle hasn’t exactly been part of the solution for the Jays, as he’s put together a 5.90 ERA over 10 starts and allowed 11 home runs. His left-handedness is worrisome for the Atlanta lineup, but Buehrle isn’t intimidating, and if the Braves can square up some of his mediocre “stuff”, it could be a long night for the Blue Jays starter.
Tuesday, May 28th – 12:37 PM ET (in Toronto) – Paul Maholm vs. Brandon Morrow
With the aforementioned travel between cities, Tuesday’s game is a matinee, and those are always fun. Paul Maholm has been fantastic in his last two starts, and enters with a 3.38 ERA. It isn’t the best match-up for him in terms of ballpark and lineup, but if Maholm’s control is on point, he can be successful. He’ll be opposed by Brandon Morrow, and he is one of the ultimate enigmas in Major League Baseball. He’s been capable of double-digit strikeouts in dominating wins, but he’s also prone to blow-ups, and he enters with an ERA of 5.50 with a 1.47 WHIP. Atlanta may strikeout 10 times against Morrow, but the production should be there, and it’s a boom-or-bust match-up.
Wednesday, May 29th – 7:10 PM ET (in Atlanta) – Esmil Rogers vs. Kris Medlen
This is the biggest pitching advantage of the four games for Atlanta. Esmil Rogers has been better than either Buehrle or Morrow this season (4.56 ERA), but he has an ERA near 6.00 for his career, and frankly, wouldn’t be in the rotation if not for some serious injury troubles in Toronto. In addition to his peripheral struggles, he’s a non-strikeout pitcher who throws from the right side, and that’s pretty much the worst case scenario against this Braves lineup. Kris Medlen has been solid in recent days, and he gets the benefit of the much-better pitcher’s park in Atlanta. Nothing is a shock in baseball, but it would be a mild surprise if the Braves were behind when the starters exit the game on Wednesday.
Thursday, May 30th – 7:10 PM ET (in Atlanta) – RA Dickey vs. Mike Minor
Thursday’s finale is certainly the headliner of the series. Last season’s NL Cy Young award winner RA Dickey is squaring off against Mike Minor, who happens to be one of the pitchers on the planet at the moment. Dickey hasn’t been quite as electric in 2013, having posted a 4.85 ERA, but his knuckleball can be the great equalizer if he has it going. Dickey has a 5.00+ career ERA against Atlanta, but that’s still a small sample size (less than 70 innings), and he should be respected entering the night. What can I even say about Mike Minor at this point? He has been absolutely lights-out for a full calendar year, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of slowing down. I’m very excited about this series finale, and hopefully, the Braves will be looking for a series victory.
It is an unusual week, but the Braves can certainly take advantage of a struggling Toronto team. The Blue Jays pitching staff (as seen above) has really struggled this season, and it could be an opportunity for the health of some of the “struggling” Braves bats (i.e. BJ Upton) to improve. Stay tuned for game-by-game coverage as the series moves along.