The Atlanta Braves literally limped into Cincinnati for a 4-game series with the Reds and left the Queen City having been swept. The offense that began slumping in the second interleague game in Tampa Bay fell off entirely in Cincy. The Braves head home to Turner Field one game behind their weekend opponent Nationals in the East and the Reds moved into first place in the National League Central.
The Braves were without Chipper Jones for the entire series, Brian McCann for three games, Matt Diaz for the second-half of the series and Freddie Freeman missed time. Jones has been nursing a bruised and swollen ankle and calf following a line drive he took off of it Friday in Tampa Bay. Brian McCann and Matt Diaz have both been battling the flu. And Freddie Freeman has had continuous vision problems due a corneal abrasion first diagnosed last Tuesday. In addition to the bats, Jonny Venters has struggled in his recent outings. Venters’ struggles may or may not be attributable to shoulder soreness and the line drive he took off his left calf Wednesday night.
Chipper Jones’ health remains a balancing act for Fredi Gonzalez as he puts together the daily lineup. The Braves are 19-5 with Chipper in the lineup and a stark 7-15 without him. Wednesday night, Chipper pinch hit and was immediately lifted for pinch runner Tim Hudson after drawing a walk. It is the only appearance Chipper made in his final series at Great American Ballpark. Because Chipper made that appearance Wednesday night, placing Jones on the DL will likely not help the Braves. They will continue to wait as his bruised leg heals.
The story of the series in Cincinnati was the long ball. Beachy game up 3 HRs; Minor 4 HRs; and Delgado didn’t give up a home run, but loaded the bases and set up a grand slam off reliever Kris Medlen. The only starter to not give up a home run in the band box that is Great American was Tommy Hanson. On the flip side for the Braves, Michael Bourn hit 3 HRs while in Cincinnatti, Juan Francisco hit 2 HRs against his former club, and Dan Uggla had 1 jack.
Braves’ hitters were a horrendous 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position (RISP) during the series.
HOME FOR THE NATS…
Friday: Detwiler (3-3, 3.65) vs. Hudson (3-1, 3.03)
Saturday: Strasburg (4-1, 2.21) vs. Minor (2-4, 6.96)
Sunday: Gonzalez (6-1, 1.98) vs. Beachy (5-2, 1.77)
The Nationals have the lowest team ERA in the National League at 2.90 and have limited their opponents’ batting average to .219. The only two categories Braves’ pitching leads the Nats in are innings pitched and saves. With the exception of perhaps the struggling Mike Minor, this series proves to be a showcase of superb NL pitching.
Though the Braves have been practicing patience with Mike Minor, they are quickly approaching a crossroads with the young lefty. Minor’s ERA actually dropped following his last outing, an outing that was marred by poor command and his giving up 4 home runs to the Reds. Minor’s outing against the Reds was his longest since the 30th of April. How Minor fares against Stephen Strasburg may determine whether Minor keeps his spot in the rotation or if the Braves consider other options like Julio Teheran who is 4-2 with a 2.98 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett (allowing 4 hits, 1 earned run in 7 innings in his last outing).
Where the Nationals struggle is with offense. The Nats are 13th in batting out of the 16 National League teams. Despite their recent woes, the Braves remain 2nd in the NL in team batting.
The Nationals have had their share of injuries. They currently have ten players on the DL, with Jayson Werth not expected to be returning until August after breaking his wrist and Wilson Ramos is not expected to return at all this season after tearing his ACL. When Michael Morse returns, that may help with the Nats’ offensive woes, but his return is still a couple of weeks away. For the Braves to be successful this weekend they will have to take advantage of the holes in the Nats’ lineup and get to the strong Nats’ pitching early.
Game one between the Braves & Nationals gets under way at Turner Field tonight at 7:35 (EST).
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.