Minnesota Twins (30-31) v. Atlanta Braves (35-29)
The Twins host the Braves after an uninspiring start to the current homestand. Minnesota has now lost 3 series in a row as they look to turn things around against Atlanta. The Braves come into the series possibly turning the corner on their own struggles. They just finished a 3-5 homestand against Florida and Chicago that included a 5-game losing streak in which they scored 15 runs in 7 games before this weekend. They almost equaled that total in their last two games, scoring 13 runs in back to back wins against the Cubs. The Braves are currently in second place in the NL East, 2.5 games back of the Mets. The Braves actually have a better record on the road than at home, with a 17-13 mark away from Atlanta. The Twins are an even .500 at home at 16-16. Even though the Twins haven’t been on fire lately, they are still helping instill fear in the opposition. Hopefully the Twins will beat Atlanta so badly that they will be out for revenge when they play both Cleveland and Detroit in the next week and a half.
On to the Braves:
The Braves have been a thrifty club for a while, and it’s mostly due to the reluctancy of the ownership to shell out money for player contracts. If they can’t spend the cash to bring in big name players to put the fans in the seats, they’ll have to rely on some inspired promotions to get the fans to the ballpark.
The Braves have two up and coming catchers in Brian McCann (referred to as “Heap” for reasons I’m not aware of) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. McCann has had some defensive struggles this year, and some facial hair struggles as well. McCann has a sore ankle and finger, and has been playing sporadically over the last week or so.
In the infield, first baseman Scott Thorman in his second year has been struggling at the plate (.228/.259/.389). Second base is manned by Kelly Johnson, while Edgar Renteria plays short (he was hit in the hand on Sunday, I don’t know how serious it was, but he left the game). Chipper Jones, the usual third baseman is eligible to come off the DL, but it will probably be another 2-4 weeks before he has recovered from “some bleeding where one of the bones in his hands meets a ligament.” In his stead rookie Yunel Escobar has impressed, and has been the subject of some trade talk.
The outfield is an interesting group. Andruw Jones is the most well known of the regular outfielders. He is also probably the smoothest, based on the difficulty Jeff Francoeur has with celebrations. Of course Francoeur probably picked it up from former Brave (now National) Ryan Langerhans. When Francoeur isn’t awkwardly deciding whether or not to hug someone, he’s doing his best Britney Spears impression, or stealing Brian McCann’s lucky shirt. Matt Diaz is also in the outfield, but he’s apparently boring, so that’s enough about him.
The pitching matchup tonight (Tuesday) is Kevin Slowey against Kyle Davies (5.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) who has alternated good with bad outings in recent history (runs allowed in chronological order: 4-1-6-1-8-1-5). Is that evidence of thinking too hard on the mound? Whether that is the case or not, unfortunately for the Twins, Davies is coming off a bad start (5.0 IP, 5 R, 6 H, 2 BB) so it could be rough sailing.
On Wednesday Carlos Silva will go up against Chuck James (3.66 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) who hasn’t allowed more than 3 runs in a start since April (8 starts). James and Davies are second and third year pitchers respectively in an organization that has been well known for producing pitching talent. In recent years however, it hasn’t quite been the same.
In the finale, Johan Santana will face off against somebody, probably Tim Hudson, although he took a line drive off his leg in his last start and had to leave the game. John Smoltz was another possibility to pitch in this series as he skipped his last start due to a sore shoulder for which he received a cortisone shot. One guy who won’t be pitching for the Braves is Mark Redman, who started the year in the rotation, but was released in May after 5 starts.
If I could just go back to John Smoltz for a second; he is the subject of this article which postulates that pitchers recovering from injuries would do well to follow Smoltz’ example and spend some significant time in the bullpen. The argument is that the bullpen stint extended Smoltz’ career and effectiveness. Perusing that article I was surprised to see that Smoltz had posted an ERA+ of 371(!) in the 2003 season. I was so impressed that I looked into it a little bit more.
Here are the top ERA+ for closers that I could find (by no means a complete list). Also, a much more complete list of the t
op ERA+ in baseball history (for those who qualified with 1 IP/G).
|Closer||Season||ERA+||Cy Young?||Starter||Season||ERA+||Cy Young?|
Wow, the Eck had a hell of a season! The only thing I could find that came close was Dennys Reyes in 2006 (ERA+ of 504).
Which leads into our trivia question for this series: The Twins have had the American League leader in ERA+ 6 times. Johan Santana has won that distinction 3 times in a row. Who are the other three Twins hurlers to lead the league in this category?