After an unusual walk-off finish last night against the Mets, the Braves turn around to host the Rangers in a three game series this weekend. This will be Turner Field's first interleague action of the 2011 season. During the Braves' first interleague matchup of the season, they played some sloppy ball against the Angels of Los Angeles in Anaheim, or whatever they like to be called now, losing two of three to SoCal's AL club. Texas has struggled as of late, losing five straight games and eight of their last ten. They still lead the AL West by half a game, though, and remain the favorite to come out of the division.
Texas is a solid ball club, not too different from the one we saw go to the World Series last season. In the absence of Cliff Lee, the Rangers' farm system procured another stud starter in Alexi Ogando, who worked in the bullpen last season. Josh Hamilton is the focal point of a thoroughly stacked lineup, although the under-appreciated veteran Michael Young leads the team in at-bats and holds a slash line of (.307/.347/.430). Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Mitch Moreland are pretty impressive with their bats as well.
Most of us are familiar with Neftali Feliz, so the Braves will need to be sure to develop a lead before heading to the ninth inning in this weekend's games. The former Braves farmhand has converted 13 of 16 save opportunities this season and holds a 2.31 ERA. This ERA figure is somewhat deceiving, as it was skewed upwards by more than a whole run when Feliz gave up three runs against the Yankees on Wednesday in what was already a blowout loss.
The injury bug has wreaked havoc on Atlanta these past few weeks. One wave of injuries appears to be almost past as Jason Heyward has returned to the lineup and both Brandon Beachy and Nate McLouth made rehab starts in Gwinnett last night. Martin Prado figures to be out for a considerable chunk of time with his staph infection and Chipper exited the game early last night. The issue with Chipper is a strained groin and he doesn't expect to go to the DL, but he has been arguably the most durable starter aside from Mac and Gonzo this season. Any lineup card without his name on it is definitely a lesser one. Tommy Hanson's right shoulder tendonitis promises to be a major headache as well depending upon its severity.
Friday 6/17 (7:35 PM)
Randall Delgado will get his first taste of big league action tonight against one of the Major League's best offenses. The conditions under which the Braves have had to call upon Delgado for a spot start aren't good, but it's exciting that Fredi G continues to trust and call up the hot young prospects to make these starts. Delgado is typically considered the Braves' #2 pitching prospect behind Mr. Teheran and slightly ahead of Arodys Vizcaino. The right-hander is 4-4 on the season in AA Mississippi with a 3.54 ERA. He'll face Colby Lewis of the Rangers, who is 5-7 on the year with a 4.97 ERA.
Saturday 6/18 (4:10 PM)
Derek Lowe faces off against Matt Harrison in game two of the series. D-Lowe had a rough going last time out against the Astros, going just five and a third and giving up five runs on eight hits. Matt Harrison is yet another one of the former Braves' farmhands that was sent to Texas in the trade for Teixeira. The lefty has a 5-6 record with a respectable 3.31 ERA for the season.
Sunday 6/19 (1:35 PM)
In the premier pitching matchup of the series, Jair Jurrjens will take on Alexi Ogando. Ogando has an impressive 7-1 record with a 2.71 ERA. The right-hander throws hard. His fastball typically comes in between 93 and 97 but tops out at 99 mph. He also throws a slider and a changeup with splitting action. Jair has come back to earth a bit over the course of his last three starts. He lasted just five and a third innings last time he took the mound and surrendered 4 earned runs, eight hits, and five walks. This was obviously uncharacteristic of Jair and I, for one, fully expect him to bounce back with a great outing against another outstanding pitcher.