After a disappointing series in the Nation’s Capital, the Braves seem to have figured things out, winning five of their last six. On top of that, Dan Uggla is hitting better than ever, as is Freddie Freeman. The Braves have seemed to struggle against teams that have not necessarily been playing well however, so the series against the Cubs is not as dead a giveaway as one would think. Hopefully some of the magic of the sweep of the Fish, on top of the Cox ceremony will spark something in the Braves that will give them a few wins, though their focus needs to shift from winning the division to taking the wild card and hoping that the pitching comes around in the playoffs.
Keys to Success
1) Uggla and Freeman – Both of these guys streaked heavily after the All-Star break. Though Freeman’s streak has ended, Uggla’s remains standing tall at 31 games. These two guys have pretty much carried the Atlanta offense since the injury to C Brian McCann and the apparent decay of the pitching staff. Hopefully Freddie can start a new streak tonight, and Uggla can keep his going.
2) Pitching – The Braves had easily the best pitching staff before the All-Star break. However, since then, both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have posted ERAs over 6 and are suffering from injuries (Jair is on the DL currently, Hanson is going to try and pitch through it). On top of that, Derek Lowe continues to struggle. Jurrjens and Hanson, as well as whoever replaces them in case of injury (Mike Minor is starting game one in place of Jurrjens) are going to have to give quality innings. The Braves seemed to have found offense behind Michael Bourn, Dan Uggla, and Freddie Freeman. The pitching must improve however, for the Braves to keep notching victories.
3) Creating Opportunities – The Braves, in an attempt to improve their lineup, went out and got Houston Astros’ OF Michael Bourn, who has done wonderful things for the Braves, along with surprise OF Jose Costanza. The Braves are going to have to keep the pressure on and keep these guys on base and stealing bases to help an offense that is going to have to carry the team through this rough pitching stretch. Martin Prado is also going to have to get used to hitting behind a base stealer and bring his average up. If the Bourn-Prado tandem works as it should, the Braves can score a lot of runs at the top of the lineup.
What to Watch For
1) Brian McCann – No, Brian McCann will not be back in this series; however, he has been taking frequent batting practice and has been throwing now for a few days. It has been announced that Mac will begin his rehab stint tonight in Gwinnett and could be back with the team as early as Sunday, though Monday seems more likely.
2) Arodys Vizcaino (pronounced A-road-eez) – The Braves announced last week that they had released RP Scott Proctor, and were bringing up stud prospect Arodys Vizcaino. He pitched immediately, striking out the first batter he faced with a nasty curve, though walking two consecutive batters right after and then hitting a man before being pulled. That’s not surprising for a guy pitching in his first big league game. Vizcaino is usually a starter, although he is going to be used as a reliever for this season, and will have his future role determined in Spring Training for next year. Hopefully this kid can show what he showed against his first batter in his first appearance and shine a little for the future of the organization.
3) Retirement of #6 – Friday is a special night in Braves’ history, as former manager Bobby Cox’s number is being retired. This is a well deserved honor, as Cox is easily in the discussion for best manager in the history of baseball. He was known for defending his players (and let’s not forget that ejection record) and being a players’ manager all around.
Friday – Carlos Zambrano (CHC) 9-6, 4.46 ERA vs. Mike Minor (ATL) 1-2, 4.85 ERA
Saturday – Randy Wells (CHC) 3-4, 6.05 ERA vs. Derek Lowe (ATL) 7-10, 4.78 ERA
Sunday – Matt Garza (CHC) 5-9, 3.81 ERA vs. Brandon Beachy (ATL) 5-2, 3.43 ERA