Results tagged ‘ Jeff Francoeur ’

Slumping Mets limp into Atlanta

With their pitching staff providing indication that April was a fluke and Jeff Francoeur duplicating the nosedive he experienced in Atlanta last year, the Mets will limp into Turner Field tonight looking much more vulnerable than that club that swept the Braves at Citi Field less than a month ago.

That three-game series in New York proved to be one of the ugliest the Braves have played in recent memory.   Brian McCann was confused about the infield fly rule.  Yunel Escobar decided he wanted to deny Troy Glaus an RBI on a routine sacrifice fly.  Then to end the forgettable weekend, the Braves were handed a 1-0 loss when rain prevented the resumption of play after the fifth inning of the series finale.

There was a sense that things could get wore for the Braves.   But even the harshest cynic would have had a tough time believing that just four days later, manager Bobby Cox would be staring at a nine-game losing streak and the reality that he would have to spend at least the next two weeks without both Yunel Escobar and Jair Jurrjens.  

When Jurrjens and Escobar were both injured on April 29, there was reason to believe if this would be a season that would lead Cox to wish he had retired one year earlier.  But 18 days later, there is reason to wonder if this is a season that is fittingly shaping up to once again show the kind of steadying influence Cox provides through disastrous stretches.  

The Braves certainly haven’t escaped their early-season mess while winning five of their past six games.  But they have at least put themselves in a good position as they enter a 13-game stretch that will carry them into a three-game series (May 31-June 2) against the Phillies.   

But before looking ahead to this week’s two-game set against the surging Reds or the opportunity to play the Pirates both of the next two  weekends, the Braves must first look to take advantage of the slumping Mets, who have lost five straight and seven of their last eight games.  

When the Braves were in New York, the Mets were in the midst of a 10-1 stretch during which their pitchers posted a 1.99 ERA.    This same pitching staff has posted a 5.38 ERA while going 4-11 in May.   <p>

When he got re-acquainted with some of his former Braves teammates last month, Francoeur was in the early stages of the slump that has led to the .214 batting average that he will carry into tonight’s series opener against Derek Lowe.  

After Francoeur batted .457 with three homers in his first 10 games this year, some Braves fans were wondering why he couldn’t have produced these kinds of numbers under the tutelage of Terry Pendleton.    But in some ways his struggles this season mirror those that he experienced last year in Atlanta.  

Since hittting .302 with a .947 OPS through  his first 14 games this year, Francoeur has batted .154 with a .421 OPS in the 24 games that have followed.  

Last year, he hit .304 with a .780 OPS in his first 14 games and then batted .204 with a .528 OPS over the course of his next 24 games.  

Like Francoeur, Mike Pelfrey enters tonight’s matchup against Lowe without the same kind of confidence that he possessed when he tossed five scoreless innings against the Braves on April 25.   At the time, he hadn’t allowed a run in 24 consecutive innings.   

Through his first three starts in May, the 26-year-old right-hander has completed 17 innings and allowed 13 earned runs.   When he last opposed the Braves at Turner Field on July 17 of last year, he was tagged for nine earned runs and nine hits in just 4 1/3 innings.  

Smoltz vs. Glavine:   If you’re not watching “24″ or the game tonight, I really don’t know what else you could be viewing.  But if you want to watch Tom Glavine and John Smoltz play a competitive round of golf tune to the Golf Channel at 9 p.m. ET tonight to see them featured on Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf.  If you don’t have a DVR, the match will be shown multiple times throughout this week.
 
 

Setting Francoeur up for the regular season

Am I right with my assumption that those of you who predicted that Jeff Francoeur would homer and draw a pair of walks in his first three plate appearances today are also the same people who predicted that Northern Iowa would beat Kansas? 

Francoeur soured Tommy Hanson’s five-inning performance on Tuesday afternoon with a solo homer that easily cleared the center field wall in the fourth inning. 

“We were just setting him up for the regular season,” joked Braves catcher Brian McCann.  

Francoeur’s second homer of the year accounted for one of the four hits surrendered by Hanson, who allowed two earned runs, recorded five strikeouts and issued three walks during this 91-pitch effort.  

Slated to go six innings, Hanson was lifted after five innings because of his pitch count. 

“My arm feels good and I didn’t feel tired one bit,” Hanson said. “It’s good to throw that many pitches and still feel good.  I think it’s another start and another step in the right direction getting ready for the season.” 

Hanson will make one more start in Florida and then likely throw just three or four innings while making his final appearance of the exhibition season against the White Sox at Turner Field on April 2.

Heyward update: After reaching base safely during each of his first 12 games of the year, Jason Heyward hasn’t reached first base in either of his past two games.  He is hitless in his past seven at-bats and he has struck out in three of his past five plate appearances. 

This mini-slump shouldn’t cause any reason for concern.  But it will be more important to monitor what Heyward does during these final two weeks of the exhibition season, when he finds himself facing more Major League-caliber pitchers than he did during the previous couple of weeks. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren said that the club hasn’t made a firm decision regarding whether Heyward will begin the season in Atlanta. 

But whenever asked about the remaining position battles, the club’s officials often just mention the battle being waged between Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad.

“There’s still 13 days left before Opening Day,” Wren said regarding Heyward.  “So we just want to continue to watch and monitor and make sure that we’re doing what’s best for him and for us.”   

Tim Hudson will be on the mound when the Braves return to Disney tomorrow afternoon to face J.A. Happ and the Phillies.  This game, which will be televised by ESPN, will also include an appearance by Jo-Jo Reyes, who is fighting for a spot in the Braves bullpen. 

  

Cabrera positioning himself for the leadoff role

With just 10 Grapefruit League games remaining, it’s still unclear exactly who will be filling the final spots on the Braves Opening Day roster.  But with Nate McLouth still fighting to break out of his slump, there’s certainly reason to doubt that he will begin the season as the club’s leadoff hitter.  

Melky Cabrera is positioned at the top of the lineup again for this afternoon’s game against the Mets and as I mentioned the other day, there’s at least reason to wonder if he could be there on a regular basis while the Braves use him as part of a platoon in left field and center field. 

With this being said, it’s far too early to simply assume that McLouth won’t be able to right himself before the exhibition season concludes.   While hitting eighth today, he’ll get his first chance to see if he benefited from the six plate appearances (one per inning) he gained during Sunday’s rain-shortened Minor League intra-squad game. 

When it was mentioned that McLouth was 1-for-35 with 14 strikeouts, ESPN’s Peter Pascarelli thought back to his early days as an Orioles beat writer and told a story about the questions he asked Earl Weaver when Eddie Murray went 3-for-42 during Spring Training. 

“Weaver told me, ‘he’s the worst Spring Training hitter ever,’”  Pascarelli said.  “Then he said, “don’t worry about him.’”

Based on memory, Pascarelli remembers Murray driving in somewhere around 120 runs that same season.

At the end of the day, Spring Training batting averages really don’t matter.  But during these final days of the exhibition season, McLouth can provide some encouragement by at least putting the ball in play with greater regularity.

This marks the fourth time the Braves have seen the Mets this year and the first time that they will be facing a lineup that includes Jeff Francoeur, who enters this game hitting .194 (6-for-31) with a homer and four RBIs.

Jason Heyward is present and could be inserted during the late innings of this game, which will be televised by ESPN.  

BRAVES LINEUP
Cabrera 8
Prado 4
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Diaz 7
McLouth 8
Hanson 1
 

 

Home Run Derby prediction and other ASG Monday odds and ends

If home-field advantage for this year’s World Series was determined by the winner of tonight’s Home Run Derby, then I’d have to say the National League should be feeling good.

Because I’d like for you to read more than two sentences of this entry, I’m not ready to pick my individual winner for tonight’s event.  But if you were simply looking at it from an NL vs. AL perspective, this would be a mismatch.

In fact, I’d probably take Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder against most any other Major League foursome.  Thrown up against Carlos Pena, Brandon Inge, Joe Mauer and Nelson Cruz and it’s apparent why the NL should plan to at least carry bragging rights into tomorrow night’s game.

My prediction is that Pujols, Fielder, Howard and Pena will advance to the semifinals.  Pujols will edge a fatigued Fielder in the finals.

If you haven’t caught today’s story about Brian McCann, check out some of the praise the Braves catcher got from other NL All-Stars.

Here are some interesting quotes from today’s media session:

Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino on last week’s  Jeff Francoeur-for-Ryan Church swap between the Braves and Mets:

“It kind of caught me by surprise. I’m not saying that I hadn’t heard that the Braves might be trying to move Francoeur.  But to do it between the Braves and the Mets just caught me off guard. But you know what, I think they’re both good players and sometimes a change of scenery can help a guy.  It happened last year with us, with (Brad) Lidge.  A change of scenery and one year later he’s perfect.  So I think sometimes things like that happen for a reason.”

Mets third baseman on how Francoeur might fare in New York:

He came up and played so well that the expectations were placed so
high.  He’ll help us immediately defensively with as much ground as he
can cover and with his throwing arm.  With that spacious outfield,
that’s going to help us immediately. If he can back to that form from a
few years ago, you’re talking about an All-Star-caliber player year in
and year out.

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira about how the New York scene might affect Francoeur:

I don’t know exactly what’s inside his head, but hopefully this is kind
of a new beginning for him and he can just let his talent play through.

If you’re losing and you’re playing bad, it doesn’t matter where you
are. Whether you’re in the American League, National League, New York
or wherever, you’re not going to be happy.  But if you’re playing well
and your team is winning, there’s no better place in the world to play
than New York.

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, when asked if his skipper was pretty excited about having the chance to direct the NL team tommorow:

He’s played it pretty low-key so far.  He hasn’t danced yet.  He hasn’t stripped naked yet.  I’m hoping he doesn’t do that.

Mets answered Braves prayers with Church

When I get to the ballpark today, I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining to Chipper Jones.  
Somewhere over the course of the past couple weeks or even within the past 24 hours, I’m pretty sure that I bet his ranch on the belief that the Braves wouldn’t be able to trade Jeff Francoeur for anything more than a mid-level prospect.
 
Given what I’d gathered from the Braves over the previous few weeks, they shared this same thought up until Wednesday, when Mets general manager Omar Minaya provided an offer that immediately made him a candidate for a playoff share if the Braves turn things around and compete in this year’s postseason.
  
Seriously when I first heard that the Braves had acquired Ryan Church in exchange for Francoeur, I think I squinted like Arnold Drummond used to do before uttering, “What you talking about Willis?”

I had essentially resigned myself to the belief that December would arrive and the Braves would gain nothing in return when they non-tendered Francoeur.  

But now instead of going through this season’s second half waiting for a man once recognized as “Their Future” to regain the promise he’d shown in The Past, they’ve actually traded him for somebody who will strengthen their right field position. 

Like most every other Major League outfielder, Church doesn’t possess Francoeur’s arm.  But now that we have that out of the way, it’s pretty hard to find any other aspect of the game where Francoeur proves to be superior to Church.  

What concerns me the most about Church is the fact that he’s hit just .264 with five homers and  a .686 OPS in the 115 games that he’s played since being concussed by Yunel Escobar’s knee last year.  

But those numbers look pretty similar to the ones produced by Francoeur,  who has hit .259 with six homers and a .661 OPS over the course of his past 115 games.

Just two days ago, we were baffled by Bobby Cox’s decision to once again start Francoeur instead of Matt Diaz.   Now with the left-handed Church, the Braves have the perfect platoon compliment for Diaz in right field.
 
Dating back to the beginning of the 2007 season, Church has hit .291 with 25 homers and an .831 OPS against right-handed pitchers.   In 272 at-bats against left-handers during this span, he has hit .232 with five homers and a .640 OPS. 

With Diaz hitting .365 and a .935 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year, the Braves don’t have to worry about the fact that Church struggles against southpaws.
 
While Church’s numbers against lefties might be alarming, they don’t look much different than the ones compiled on an everyday basis this year by Francoeur, who in his past 272 at-bats has hit .246 with four homers and a .614 OPS.  
The Mets didn’t do Church any favors by quickly rushing him back to the lineup on two separate occasions after he suffered the concussion last year and they didn’t provide any of their hitters an advantage with the dimensions that are present at Citi Field. 
 
During the 32 games he’s played at Citi Field this year, Church has hit .216 with a .576 OPS.  In 35 road games, he has hit .326 with an .804 OPS.

Throw in the fact that Mets manager Jerry Manuel didn’t seem to like him and it was obvious that it was in Church’s best interests to escape New York. 
 
And there was no doubt that it was time for Francoeur to realize a change of scenery.   While he’s  still the same likeable kid that we’ve known since he debuted in 2005, the  past two years have proven that he’s not the quality player some might have envisioned when he hit .276 with 53 homers and a .777 OPS through the first 321`games of his career.

In the 310 games that have followed, he has hit .256, with 25 homers and a .685 OPS.

With the pressures of living up to the expectations of being the hometown hero that he was during his high school days, Francoeur constantly tried to change his approach and in the process, he seemingly lost his identity.
 
Whether Francoeur is able to turn things around in New York remains to be seen.  But there’s no doubt the Braves made themselves better yesterday when they were miraculously found somebody willing to provide the piece that significantly upgrades their right field position.   
 

Francoeur trade reaction

After posting that original blog entry with tonight’s lineup, I went to the dugout to talk to Bobby Cox, who quickly explained the Tommy Hanson situation and then got the call from Frank Wren. 

Moments later, Cox grabbed Chino Cadahia and both immediately headed toward the clubhouse to inform Jeff Francoeur that he’d been traded.  

Just like that, Francoeur went from being one of the most scrutinized players on this blog to being a member of the Mets outfield. 

To recap the trade, the Braves sent Francoeur and cash considerations to the Mets in exchange for Ryan Church.  The specifics of the cash consideration weren’t revealed.  But it was probably something in the neighborhood of $250,000  –  which would account for the differences in their salaries.

I’ve got to add to the main story on the site.  But in short, I think this is a trade that has the potential to benefit both players. 

Church seemed to fall out of favor with the Mets and while Francoeur was one of the most likable players in the Braves clubhouse, his performance had put him in a position where he was likely going to be non-tendered if he remained in Atlanta until the conclusion of this season.

I would have to say that Jeff Francoeur was one of the better human beings that I’ve ever come across in this business.  Obviously, there have been times that he’s been furious with things that I’ve written and consequently chosen to give me the silent treatment for a while. 

But over the past six weeks, I saw the 25-year-old outfielder truly mature and accept the fact that baseball is a tough business.  I wish him nothing but the best and when the Mets visit Turner Field next week, I hope the fans show him how much they appreciated the dedication and determination he displayed throughout his 4 1/2 seasons in Atlanta.

There was certainly reason to criticize his game.  But in the midst of all of his struggles, Francoeur never lost his desire to give everything he had every day that he came to work. 

Tonight’s New Lineup
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 3
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Garret Anderson 7
Matt Diaz 9
Brooks Conrad 4
Diory Hernandez 6
Derek Lowe 1

Injury updates from Coors Field

Well there might not be any further reason to wonder whether the Braves will deal Javier Vazquez before the trade deadline.  

Instead it seems like all concerns regarding Vazquez should be centered on his ability to fight through his lower abdominal strain and prolong the success that he enjoyed during the season’s first half.
 
Vazquez’s impressive first half officially came to a close on Thursday evening when the Braves revealed that he’s going to miss Sunday’s scheduled start because of a strained lower abdominal muscle.    He’s been battling the ailment for a couple of weeks and aggravated it while completing  Tuesday night’s gem against the Cubs. 

After receiving the results of an MRI exam that was performed on Thursday in Atlanta, the Braves seem hopeful that Vazquez will be able to make his first turn after the All-Star break.  My guess is that they’ll hold him out until the July 20 game against the Giants.  

It was certainly surprising to hear the Braves say that Vazquez has been bothered by some discomfort for a couple of weeks.   The 32-year-old pitcher has gone 2-3 with a 1.96 ERA over his last eight starts.
 
The Braves said that Vazquez may have aggravated the injury during Tuesday’s sixth inning or while striking out during his seventh-inning at-bat.
 
Either way the Braves don’t seem overly concerned about the injury and they’re hoping they feel the same way next week.
 
Schafer update:   Braves general manager Frank Wren said that Dr. Gary Lourie has once again determined that Jordan Schafer’s left wrist discomfort is caused by a bone bruise.  This was the same diagnosis that was provided when Lourie examined the 22-year center fielder in early June.  <p>

Still it seems like the Braves understand there’s a chance that Schafer will miss the remainder of the season.  

“There’s a chance they may want to do additional therapies beyond what they did the last time, when they prescribed a couple weeks of rest,” Wren said.  <p>

Schafer, who has spent the past month with Triple-A Gwinnett, hasn’t played since aggravating the injury again last Friday night.   If he’s not able to play again the rest of this season, you at least have to wonder if he’ll need to begin the 2010 season in the Minors.  

While Schafer has downplayed the effect of his injury,  there’s no doubt in my mind that it has affected him.  He homered twice during the season’s first three games and then suddenly lost his ability to produce necessary bat speed after injuring the wrist during the season’s fourth game.

I understand Spring Training can fool you. But the guy that hit .204 and struck out 63 times in 50 games with Atlanta, wasn’t the same one that we saw impress on a daily basis in Florida.
 
Francoeur over Diaz:  Many of you have expressed your disbelief in Bobby Cox’s decision to give Jeff Francoeur a third consecutive start in right field on Thursday night.   Without mentioning any names, I’ll just say that you guys are sharing the same views as some of the members of the Braves clubhouse.
 
Look I know that the Braves lost the three games that Diaz started in right field.  And I realize that the Braves have won each of the past seven games that Francoeur has started.
 
But count me among those who can’t understand how you can put Diaz’s hot bat on the bench right now.
  
During his past six starts, Diaz has recorded 12 hits, four of which have gone for extra bases.   Entering Thursday, Francoeur had recorded 12 hits, four of which had gone for extra bases over the course of his previous 51 at-bats.

There are potential benefits to moving Vazquez

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has posed the question, “why would the Braves trade Javier Vazquez?”

While understanding all of the points that Rosenthal made, I still think the Braves will at least explore the possibility of moving Vazquez if they fall out of contention.   But if they are stay alive, they won’t look to move the right-hander simply to free up money to acquire a big bat.  

Now while saying there’s a possibility the Braves will attempt to move Vazquez, I’ll also add that they’ll be looking  for a hefty return package that at least mirrors the one the Indians received when they sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers last year.

Because he was four years younger and obviously had a greater upside, you could argue that Sabathia definitely should have garnered a greater return than Vazquez.  But while doing so, you’re ignoring the fact that the Brewers basically knew they were parting ways with Matt LaPorta and three other prospects in exchange for just four months of Sabathia’s services.  

When Sabathia was traded last year, he’d made 18 starts for the Indians.  During that span, he went 6-8, worked 122 1/3 innings, posted a 3.83 ERA, registered 123 strikeouts and issued 34 walks.  Opponents hit .252 against him and produced a .306 on-base percentage.  

Through his first 18 starts this year, Vazquez has bettered those numbers.  While going 6-7 with a 2.95 ERA, he has worked 119 innings, recorded 136 strikeouts and issued 23 walks.  Opponents have hit .229 against him and produced a .270 on-base percentage.  

And instead of being a short-term rental, Vazquez will be under contract again next year at a cost of $11.5 million. Given that he’s averaged 215 innings and 195 strikeouts over the course of his past nine full seasons, he could certainly be viewed as an affordable commodity by a number of teams.

With some baseball executives saying that only a handful of teams are capable of adding payroll before this year’s trade deadline, the $3.9 million cost Vazquez would bring over the final two months of this season might eliminate some potential suitors.  In addition, his contract prevents him from being traded to one of the teams in the West Divisions of both the American and National Leagues.

But the Braves have to at least explore this opportunity at a point when Vazquez’s value may never be higher.  Dealing him could allow them to find at least one of the outfielders that they will be seeking during the offseason.

There was some thought that the Braves would begin the 2010 season with Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer manning two of their outfield spots.  But with Schafer’s left wrist still ailing, there’s a chance that he’ll have to begin next season back in the Minors.  

Looking at the list of outfielders who will be available this winter, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are the most attractive names available.   Unless Nate McLouth is able to persuade his good buddy to join him in Atlanta, I don’t see Bay as a possibility and Hank Aaron has a better chance than Holliday to be a part of the Braves outfield next year.
 
 
With Tim Hudson returning next year, the Braves already have a pitcher that will team with Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe to give them the makings of a strong rotation.  But they obviously need  to add some offense and with Vazquez, they seemingly have a piece that will provide them the opportunity to upgrade their lineup before attempting to do so on the uncertain free agent market. 

As previously mentioned, if the Braves fall out of contention, they might also attempt to move Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.   There are a number of teams looking to upgrade their bullpens.  But with both of these potential closers being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to be looking for a strong return. 

While it still seems unlikely that the Braves will be able to move Jeff Francoeur this month, they are at least holding out hope that a team might be willing to take a chance on Kelly Johnson.  The Indians and Cardinals are among the teams who have previously shown definite interest in Johnson. 

And to provide an update on Schafer, doctors weren’t able to detect any damage to his left wrist during an MRI exam performed on Tuesday.  In attempt to gain a better view, a CAT Scan was scheduled for Wednesday.
 

 

Braves not looking to move Escobar

Jeff Francoeur is out of the lineup for a third straight game.  Tim Hudson felt fine while throwing an 18-pitch live batting practice session.  And, Martin Prado was named the National League’s Player of the Week.  

But before digging into today’s events, it seems more important to at least quiet the Yunel Escobar rumors that are circulating. 

Look I understand the entertainment value of the rumor market that will swirl over the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline.  But at the same time, I think it’s time to take Yunel Escobar’s name out of the mix. 

Teams have certainly called to express interest in Escobar and with his stubborn personality the talented shortstop has given the Braves at least reason to ponder the possibility of moving him.

But from what I’ve gathered, the Braves have zero desire to move Escobar.  He’s simply not the kind of player that you move because you’ve found another warm body to fill the shortstop position.  

While his mental mistakes have sometimes been maddening, Escobar is a top-flight defensive shortstop, whose offensive production will grow as he continues to increase his power.   He ranks second in the National League with a .405 batting average with runners in scoring position and his team-leading 42 RBIs have been gathered at a cost of $425,000.  

Still one year away from becoming arbitration eligible, Escobar will once again prove cheap again next year, when he’ll once again be with the Braves.

Huddy update: The five-minute, 18-pitch live batting practice session that Hudson threw today was essentially what he would have completed had this been the first day of Spring Training.  He will throw another short session again on Tuesday and then steadily work to increase his arm strength in preparation for his for Minor League rehab start with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach on July 19. 

“It’s going to take some time for me to get used to pitching in a game, seeing hitters out there and having that added adrenaline rush,” said Hudson, who likely won’t be able to rejoin the Atlanta rotation before Aug. 25. 

Francoeur sits again:  Not to long ago, it was noteworthy whenever Jeff Francoeur was out of the lineup.  Thus, it was certainly newsworthy to see Cox leave Francoeur out of his lineup for a third straight game on Monday.

It’s near impossible to keep Matt Diaz’s bat out of the lineup right now and with the Cubs throwing right-hander Randy Wells tonight, Cox wanted to keep Garret Anderson’s bat in the mix.

When asked if he’d like to be traded Francoeur said, “It’s not something that I want.  I just want to play. You can take that however you want to.”

Prado POW:  When asked what he thought about being named the NL’s Player of the Week, Martin Prado talked about how surprised he was to win an honor that could have gone to the likes of Albert Pujols.

But while hitting .577 (15-for-26) with a .621 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage last week Prado deservedly earned this award over the likes of Pujols, who hit .429 (9-for-21) with a .571 on-base percentage and .952 slugging percentage.

 

Red Sox fans provide Lowe some love

Derek Lowe didn’t know how he’d be received by the Red Sox fans tonight.  But as he made his way toward the bullpen to warm up, they provided a nice ovation that proved they haven’t forgotten the significant role he played during the 2004 postseason. 

While becoming the first pitcher to ever gain wins in three clinching games during the same postseason, Lowe helped the Red Sox end their 86-year drought with the 2004 World Series title.  <p>

Five years later, Lowe finally finds himself with another opportunity to pitch in front of the fans who saw him develop from a young middle reliever to a postseason hero.   This will actually be his first career start against the Red Sox. 

While Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Tim Wakefield are the only current Red Sox remaining from that 2004 world championship team, Lowe will certainly find some familiarity with the environment.  In the 46 starts he’s made at Fenway Park dating back to the beginning of the 2002 season, he is 28-10 with a 3.20 ERA. 

(And we interupt this blog to say that the Red Sox fans once again provided a nice roar when the public address announcer said Lowe’s name while announcing starting lineups.)

Frenchy update: The Royals are watching Jeff Francoeur this weekend and there’s still obviously a chance that Dayton Moore could be prompted to make a deal for the 25-year-old outfielder. 

But to make this deal work, the Braves may need to be willing to assume the baggage and cost that Jose Guillen would bring.  Guillen is making $12 million this season and he’ll be owed and equal amount before his contract expires at the end of the 2010 season. 

Smoltz’s humor: Chipper Jones wasn’t happy when the official scorer awarded him a seventh-inning single on Friday and then later opted to charge Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell with an error 

Knowing that Jones wasn’t happy, John Smoltz approached his good friend today and attempted to further stir the pot by saying that he was the one who had called the press box to persuade the official scorer to reverse his original ruling. 

After saying, “You’ve got to be (kidding) me,”  Jones laughed with Smoltz, Francoeur and some of the other Braves who were in on the joke.       

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