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Atlanta Braves - Boston Red Sox: Series Preview

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The interleague action really heats up for the Atlanta Braves today as they face the Boston Red Sox. Atlanta will face the best team in the American League in 6 of their next 10 games, so it is important that we get acquainted with the Beantown Bombers.

In preparation for the series (plural), I exchanged some questions with Randy Booth from the Red Sox blog, Over the Monster. Click here for my answers to his questions. I also answered some questions about the Braves for NESN, the station that broadcasts Red Sox games, and I will post those once they are up on their site. [UPDATE] Here is the link to the NESN Q&A.

Q.  So, this John Smoltz guy, how is he going to fit into your rotation? Who gets booted from the rotation and are you excited to add him to your starting rotation?

A.  The word as of now is that Smoltz will enter the rotation and the Red Sox will go with a 6-man rotation. So no one will be pushed out, but names that could be dropped include Brad Penny and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Penny is a viable trade candidate (although I'm not sold on that), and Dice-K has struggled mightily. But Smoltz is going to be fun to watch. I can't wait for the first time he takes the mound in Fenway Park. He'll get a giant ovation. His presence on the team alone will be huge, not necessarily just what he does on the mound.

Q.  The Braves and the Red Sox are deemed "natural rivals" for interleague play. After the Yankees, are the Braves considered your biggest rival or are they considered a rival at all?

A.  Oh, boy, we at OTM absolutely hate the Boston Braves. I mean, they are our biggest rival... wait. The Atlanta Braves? Who's that? But seriously, it's just another interleague game it seems like. I don't think there's anyone sitting back in Red Sox Nation thinking, 'Oh, boy! This series with the Braves is going to be HUGE!' And that's the type of thing that happens with the Sox/Yankees every single series -- whether it be April or September. The Braves are always a tough team, though, so it's always a good series.

Q.  What player has been the biggest surprise on your team this year and why? Who has been the biggest disappointment?

A.  The biggest surprise has probably been Ramon Ramirez. He's been nearly untouchable in the bullpen. We all thought he was going to be a good reliever when we acquired him from Kansas City for Coco Crisp, but no one thought he'd be this good. He leads the bullpen with 32 innings pitched and has a 1.97 ERA and a 0.938 WHIP.

The biggest disappointment has probably been Dice-K. He just has not done anything well this year. He's been on the disabled list, and when he's been off of it he has really struggled. I could have said David Ortiz for this spot, but haven't we ragged on the guy enough this year? Plus he's coming around (five home runs this month). But I think if Dice-K was as good as he was last year, the Red Sox would have at least 4 to 5 more wins.

Q.  Which ex-Braves player are you happiest with, and why? J.D. Drew, Nick Green, or Mark Kotsay.

A.  I absolutely love J.D. Drew. I love the ballplayer that he is. He's a guy that will hit anywhere in the lineup and plays a really smart game. He hasn't had the best Red Sox career, but he's done a lot of things well for the Sox. Nick Green has been a very, very pleasant surprise. He's hitting .293 in 48 games. The Red Sox are 29-11 when he starts. And Kotsay -- he just got off the disabled list, but he's a terrific bench player. He showed in last year's playoffs that he's a very fine defensive first baseman for late-game situations.

Q.  The Sox are a first place team with the best record in the AL, do they have any weaknesses that you think need to be addressed?

A.  The Red Sox are the best team in the AL, but it doesn't seem like they should be. Outside of the bullpen, everything else has struggled. The offense hasn't really clicked quite yet. Our starters seem like they are just now coming around, and it seems like everything is slowly coming together. A couple key weaknesses for the Sox have been the defense (a defensive-minded shortstop would be fantastic at the deadline) and perhaps a hitter to platoon with Ortiz. He's hitting now, but how long will it last?

Many thanks to Randy for his great answers to my questions.

For a preview of the pitching matchups in the series, visit bigjoe's series preview at Braves Heart.