The Braves wrap up a nine-game homestand with an interleague series against the Toronto Blue Jays. I exchanged questions with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter regarding this week's matchup. My answers to his questions can be found here.
Jose Bautista is having another huge season offensively, but who in the lineup might be overlooked?
Right now Adam Lind is doing a terrific job with the bat, this month he is out hitting Bautista, but then Jose is in a bit of a slump, for him. Adam's .619 slugging average would be second in the AL (to Jose) if he had enough at bats, he missed a couple of weeks with a bad back. He has had an amazing June, 8 home runs and 17 RBI in 15 games. He seems to be enjoying the challenge of hitting behind Bautista, teams have still been walking Jose to pitch to LInd, not a smart move right now. Beyond Lind and Bautista, Yunel Escobar is doing a good job in the leadoff spot and Aaron Hill's bat may be coming around, or it might be wishful thinking from me, after a good week for Aaron.
More questions and the pitching matchups after the jump.
Ricky Romero has been Toronto's best pitcher this year, but tell us a bit about Zach Stewart, as well as what you've seen from Jo-Jo Reyes since the trade with the Braves last year.
Zach has just made the one start for us. He looked impressive, throwing strikes. He went 7 innings, allowing just 2 earned and walking 1. The caveat to that is the start was against the Orioles and the way they have looked, this past little while, I could likely give you 5 good innings against them. Stewart has fastball with good sink on it, slider and change, and can throw them all for strikes, if his first start is to be believed. We were surprised he was called up, as he wasn't having the best year at Double-A but his last 2 or 3 starts there had been pretty good and management thinks he has turned a corner.
Jo-Jo has been a surprise, he really only made the staff because he was out of options and then made the rotation because of a couple of injuries and some ineffectiveness by other potential starters. You likely know that he just ended a 28 start winless streak, but in his last 4 starts he is 3-1. Since the start of May he has kept the team in the game most starts. The key for him is to be hitting the bottom of the strike zone with his pitches and getting the calls on those pitches. If he isn't hitting his spots or if he isn't getting those calls he is very hittable. He keeps the walks down to a minimum and has been getting some luck on fly balls staying in the park, things a guy that doesn't strikeout enough batters needs. He is fine as that 4th/5th starter type.
The Jays lost three key pitchers this past offseason in Kevin Gregg, Shaun Marcum and Scott Downs. This year, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco have split the closing duties and neither has been terribly effective this year. Who else has struggled lately?
Our bullpen had been a strength until about a month ago. We were 2nd in the AL in bullpen ERA. We had a very bad series against the Red Sox that I'm trying to forget, where everyone's ERA ballooned. That said Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch have looked better of late. Frank's troubles seemed to come in the second of back to back appearances. He did miss some of spring training with a minor injury and maybe wasn't 100% when the season started. He has only given up 1 run this month. Rauch has had his moments too. He doesn't strikeout many, which is a surprise considering he is 6'10" and scary looking. You'd expect more strikeouts but that's not the type of pitcher he is.
A lot of our bullpen troubles have been due to rookie manager John Farrell (hopefully) learning on the job. He, far too often, chooses relievers based on small sample matchups. He brought in lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face two lefty killers, in the Oriole series, because the two batters were 0 for 3 and 2 for 7 against him. I'm hoping he'll learn his lesson on sample sizes soon. He is a bright guy, too bright (I hope) to continue to make these mistakes. He seems to be slowing getting it. Reliever Octavio Dotel is great against RHB and lousy against LHB. At the start of the season Farrell seemed to put him out there more against the lefties but lately he is facing almost exclusively right-handers.
As for who else has struggled, take our batting order. remove Bautista, Lind and Escobar out and throw a dart, you'll hit someone that had struggled (and some of them, if you injured them with the dart, I'd thank you). Of particular note, Rajai Davis is going through a stretch where he swings at every breaking ball, no matter how far off the plate. Corey Patterson had a good start to the season, but, unfortunately, he has remembered that he is Corey Patterson. Playing everyday this month, he has 2 extra base hits and an equal number of walks, to go along with a .211 BA. Add in that if someone is on base in front of him and there is less than two outs, he bunts almost every time, not exactly what I want from a corner outfielder. Catcher J.P. Arencibia took a ball of his throwing hand and hurt his thumb, a couple of weeks back, and has had trouble driving the ball ever since.
I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention Yunel Escobar. How much has he helped the offense?
Yunel has been great. He was put in the leadoff spot after Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson bombed out there, and has been great. He gets on base, gives us occasional pop (8 home runs so far) and runs the bases well, without getting caught stealing in front of the big guys in the line up. We are enjoying watching his defense too, he really seems to have fun playing the game. If Gold Glove voters knew that someone other than Derek Jeter played short, he'd have a good shot that the award this year.
He seems to be happy playing here, there are a few Spanish speaking players on the team and they get along well. He must like it because he signed a two-year contract extension at $5 million a year with 2 club option years at the same $5 million. I'm very surprised that he sold off his first two free agent seasons so cheaply.
What are your realistic expectations for this series?
As always it all depends on our starting pitching. Our starters have had their troubles this year, but they have been great the last two series against the Orioles and the Reds. We've had a little streak of 6 Quality Starts in a row and, in the Red series, our pitchers only walked 2 batters in the three games against the Reds. The base on balls has been a problem all year. If our pitchers can keep that up and our middle of the order guys continue to hit we should be in all three games.
Monday, June 20, 7:10 p.m. EDT
#24 / Pitcher / Toronto Blue Jays
Nov 06, 1984
|2011 - Ricky Romero||6-6||14||14||2||0||0||0||95.2||81||35||32||10||34||87||3.01||1.20|
#15 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Jul 14, 1975
|2011 - Tim Hudson||5-6||14||14||1||1||0||0||86.0||79||46||39||6||20||54||4.08||1.15|
Tuesday, June 21, 7:10 p.m. EDT
#56 / Pitcher / Toronto Blue Jays
Sep 28, 1986
|2011 - Zach Stewart||0-0||1||1||0||0||0||0||7.0||7||2||2||1||1||4||2.57||1.14|
#36 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Dec 26, 1987
|2011 - Mike Minor||0-2||5||5||0||0||0||0||26.1||33||16||16||0||14||18||5.47||1.78|
Wednesday, June 22, 1:05 p.m. EDT
#37 / Pitcher / Toronto Blue Jays
Nov 20, 1984
|2011 - Jo-Jo Reyes||3-5||14||14||1||0||0||0||79.2||92||46||37||8||25||52||4.18||1.47|
#37 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Sep 03, 1986
|2011 - Brandon Beachy||1-1||8||8||0||0||0||0||44.1||36||18||17||5||12||46||3.45||1.08|
We appreciate Tom taking the time to answer questions regarding this series. Let's hope it's an exciting one.