Braves prepare for red-hot pitching staff
While spending the past nine games playing a pair of American League division leaders and the Kansas City Braves, the Atlanta Braves have been nearly perfect. The only things separating them from perfection were a limestone backdrop that blinded Chipper Jones and one of those Kenshin Kawakami starts that may soon become extinct.
Now as they prepare to spend the next three days playing the red-hot White Sox here in Chicago, the Braves won’t have to worry about blinding backdrops or Kawakami. But they will have to deal with a pitching staff that has posted a 2.07 ERA while helping Ozzie Guillen’s bunch win 10 of their past 11 games.
The lone loss during this span occurred June 13, when Gavin Floyd allowed the Cubs just three hits and one run during a complete game, eight-inning effort that was tarnished by Ted Lilly’s no-hit bid.
Four White Sox starters have allowed a total of two earned runs over the course of their past two starts. Unfortunately for the Braves, they’ll be seeing three of these hurlers this week.
While bidding to win his fifth consecutive decision in tonight’s series opener, Tommy Hanson, who has also combined to allow just two earned runs in his past two starts, will be pitted against John Danks.
Danks has compiled a strong and somewhat misleading 3.18 ERA through his first 13 starts. The 25-year-old left-hander has allowed 30 earned runs this year and 12 of those were tallied during his final start in May and his first start of this month. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his outings and three earned runs in another.
When the Braves beat Cole Hamels on June 1, it marked their fifth straight win in a game during which they were pitted against a left-handed starter. They have since lost three of the last four games they have played against a southpaw starter.
But this shouldn’t cause any more reason for concern heading into tonight’s matchup against Danks. The three left-handed starters they opposed during these three starts were Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Liriano and David Price.
It should also be noted that Kawakami served as the opposition for both Kershaw and Price. Minnesota’s limestone backdrop provided the crushing blow during Liriano’s start.
Barring any injuries, Kawakami will likely make his final start on Saturday afternoon, when the Braves host the Tigers. Jair Jurrjens will be ready to rejoin the rotation the following week and as things stand now there’s virtually no reason to keep Kawakami in the rotation instead of Kris Medlen.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Braves have activated Takashi Saito for tonight’s series opener and optioned Craig Kimbrel back to Triple-A Gwinnett. The club wants Kimbrel to get the regular work that he wouldn’t get if he remained in the Majors.
Jason Heyward has moved to within 30,000 votes of Andre Ethier, who continues to lead the NL outfielders in this year’s All-Star balloting. With the NL’s fourth-best vote total, it’s looking like Heyward will be in the starting lineup for this year’s All-Star Game.
Martin Prado, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are going to need some strong support to earn starting spots. Fans can continue to cast their ballots on MLB.com through 11:59 p.m. ET on July 1.
Right now, I’d have to say that Martin Prado, Troy Glaus and Tim Hudson are locks to earn All-Star selections this year. The players have voted McCann in each of the past four years and there’s reason to believe they’ll do so again this year.
While McCann’s stats might not meet his standards, they are still some of the best produced by an NL catcher this year. He leads all qualified NL catchers with a .796 OPS. If he can get his batting average up above .265 before the players cast their votes, he’ll likely be in Anaheim.
I also think there’s a chance Billy Wagner will be given an All-Star bid. The veteran closer’s save opportunities were limited during the early portion of the season. But he’s converted 14 of his 16 chances and posted an impressive 1.23 ERA in 30 appearances.
Don’t be surprised if Charlie Manuel finds a spot for his former closer on this year’s NL roster.