Time for the Braves to experience a prolonged winning streak
When I arrived at my Pasadena hotel this afternoon, I clicked on MLB.com and had to laugh when I saw the image used to lead into the story about this weekend’s four-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox.
Standing in the middle of this image was John Smoltz, who while opposing Joba Chamberlain during tonight’s series opener, is going to have a chance to set the tone for what occurs over the next four days in the Bronx.
Nevertheless, it’s still quite odd to see Smoltz wearing that Red Sox uniform and suddently standing as one of the key figures in what is undoubtedly the game’s top rivalry.
Sure, you have the Cubs-Cardinals and the Dodgers-Giants. The Interleague era has obviously allowed intrigue to follow some of the matchups between the Mets-Yankees. But nothing beats the anticipation of what precedes those four-hour, epic affairs the Yankees and Red Sox are seemingly destined to encounter every time they oppose each other.
With the Dodgers having to travel to San Francisco on Monday to begin a three-game series against the second-place Giants, can the Braves hope that Manny Ramirez and his mates will look beyond this weekend’s four-game series at Dodger Stadium? Or did I simply spend too much time reading college football magazines on this morning’s cross-country flight?
Seriously though, while the Dodgers still own the best record in the Majors, they are currently in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season. They’ve lost eight of their last 13 games and unfortunately for the Braves, two of the five wins notched during that stretch occurred last weekend at Turner Field.
While splitting their first 20 games since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have experienced the same rollercoaster journey that has followed the Braves, who have won 16 of their past 26 games? Or is it more timely to say that they’ve lost five of their past nine?
Whichever way you want to view it, with 54 games left this season, the Braves can’t afford to experience any more extended stretches of mediocrity. They’ll enter tonight’s series opener five games back in the Wild Card race with three teams in front of them (Giants, Rockies and the tied NL Central combo of the Cards/Cubs). As for the Marlins, their 55-53 record is identical to Atlanta’s.
The Braves have 13 games remaining against the Marlins and three against the Cardinals. While they’re done playing the Giants and Rockies, they can hope that these two NL West rivals beat each other up in their remaining division contests. The same line of thinking can be used when thinking about the Cubs and Cards, who are lining up produce a great battle to win the NL Central.
There’s hope if the Braves win the games they’re supposed to against the likes of the Nationals and Padres. But at the same time, they’ve put themselves in a position where they need to also find success against the game’s elite.
With pitching matchups of Derek Lowe vs. Randy Wolf, Jair Jurrjens vs. Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw vs. Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, the Braves certainly have a chance to win at least three of the four games played this weekend.
Lowe beat Wolf last weekend. Jurrjens pitched effectively before experiencing his forgettable two-out struggles during last Sunday’s loss to Billingsley. I’ll take Vazquez against most any other Major League pitcher right now.
And once again, we’re looking at Kawakami’s start as the one that draws doubt. The Braves have lost each of the past four games started by the 34-year-old Japanese right-hander. Those four losses account for half of the total they’ve compiled in 20 games since the All-Star break.
Minor’s bonus: As I write this Mike Minor is likely dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” to secure the $2.42 million signing bonus the Braves have offered him. This is the highest bonus ever given to a player selected seventh in the Draft and the largest one in the organization’s history.
But at the same time, it’s a cost the Braves knew they were going to incur while provided their highest Draft selection since 1990.
While it would have been nice to get Minor into the system as early as possible, the fact that he was able to rest his left arm most of this summer could also prove to be beneficial. The 21-year-old southpaw completed 110 2/3 innings for Vanderbilt this year and spent last summer pitching for Team USA.
If Minor proves to be a quick climber, there’s a chance he could move into the back end of the Braves rotation some time during the 2011 season. Lowe will be in the final year of his contract and if they follow their current path, Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson will form a formidable 1-2 punch at the front-end of the rotation.