With the final three games of the homestand beginning tonight with the Blue Jays in town, Alex Gonzalez and Yunel Escobar will get a chance to see some familiar faces they have not seen since being swapped for each other last season.
The Braves are a mediocre 5-5 in their last 10 games after dropping 2 of 3 to both the Rangers and Mets to begin the homestand while the Blue Jays are 4-6 and come in after taking 2 of 3 from the Cincinnati Reds.
After taking on an offense loaded with weapons like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young, the Braves pitching staff now welcomes an offense anchored by Jose Bautista.
The 2010 Home Run King, Bautista leads the Blue Jays in almost every offensive category. His .336 batting average ranks among the tops in the AL, as do his 21 home runs. But Bautista is not just a home run threat, he has 76 hits and 46 RBI’s with a .483 On-Base Percentage. Bautista has only one home run ion his last 70 at-bats.
Behind Bautista sit Escobar, Adam Lind, Jose Molina, Corey Patterson and Juan Rivera, all capable of going on hot streaks at any given moment.
But the biggest surprise has been the contributions from Escobar.
Shipped out of Atlanta for being a distraction in the clubhouse, Escobar has been one of the Blue Jays most consistent players.
Hitting .280, Escobar has already produced 72 hits in 67 games under new manager John Farrell, who replaced Cito Gaston after the end of last season.
At 36-36 the Blue Jays compete in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, the AL East, and sit 7 1/2 games behind division-leading Boston.
This series will test the Braves pitching, as the Rangers did before, as well as the back end of the bullpen.
Monday’s 7:10 opener pits Tim Hudson against Ricky Romero.
Hudson did not fare well at all in his previous InterLeague start, going 3 2/3 innings May 20, giving up 8 runs on 7 hits in a 9-0 Angels victory. Since that time, Hudson has been inconsistent, reaching 6 innings in two of his last four starts. In his other two, he lasted just 4 innings. In his career against Toronto, Hudson is 10-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 15 starts, mostly when in Oakland.
In his third year in the league, Romero comes in with a 6-6 record and a 3.01 ERA, earning the win in his last start against the Orioles, a 4-1 Toronto win. In that start, he went 8 innings, giving up 3 hits, striking out 12 and walking 4.
Fredi Gonzalez’s lineup has not changed much over the last few days, especially with Chipper Jones out again today. He will lead off with Jordan Schafer before sending up Alex Gonzalez to help set the table for Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. Giving his starter a much-needed day off, David Ross will call the pitches in place of Brian McCann, followed by Nate McLouth and Diory Hernandez.
In Tuesday’s 7:10 start, the Braves send Mike Minor to the mound opposite Zach Stewart.
Minor will once again be looking to notch his first victory of the season. Minor has started 5 games, and the Braves have won 3 of those, well after Minor’s day was done.
In his last outing against the Mets, Minor went 4 1/3 innings, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3.
In the first start of his career, Stewart threw 7 strong innings against the Orioles, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 and walking 1, but the Blue Jays fell 4-3 that day, as Stewart did not earn a decision.
In Wednesday’s 1:05 start, Brandon Beachy will make his return from the DL after an oblique strain sidelined him for the better part of a month. Opposite Beachy is former Brave, Jo-Jo Reyes.
Beachy’s previous start came against the Phillies May 13 where he lasted just 2 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, striking out 1 and walking 1. Before his injury, Beachy had strung together 4 quality starts.
For Reyes, this will be his first start against the team he came up with. Dating back to 2010, Reyes encountered a stretch of tough luck, unable to notch a victory in 28 consecutive starts.
But after beating the Reds, 3-2, Friday night, Reyes has earned victories in 3 of his last 4 starts, beginning against Cleveland where he pitched a complete game, giving up 1 run on 8 hits, striking out 4 and walking 4.
Reyes went 6 1/3 innings against the Reds, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 5 and not allowing a walk.
Keys to the series
- Limit defensive casualties
- Against the Rangers, the Braves committed 8 errors, something they saw hurt themselves when losing the first two games. Not giving the Blue Jays an extra out will keep Hudson, Minor and Beachy from overly-long innings.
- Limit Jose Bautista
- Yes, he has hit only one home run in his previous 70 AB’s, but Bautista is a threat any time he steps to the plate. Find a strategy that works, aside from walking him, and stick to it.
- Keep scratching and clawing
- The Braves now sit 5 games behind the Phillies after the weekend, but the season is only half over. With Heyward and McLouth back, the Braves need to find stability in their lineup aside from Schafer, Freeman and McCann with Chipper not in the lineup for who knows how long. Find a way to start winning series’ and things will begin to fall into place
- Dan Uggla.
- He has shown glimpses of breaking out of the season-long slump he has been mired in, and even raised his batting average to .177 (he was up to .183). Getting Uggla, as well as Heyward (.215) going are huge to the Braves lineup.
Notes: The previous meeting in 2009 saw the Braves sweep the Blue Jays, but the Braves are 10-14 all-time against Toronto, including the 1992 World Series