The Reds (18-14) return home after a successful (given Cincinnati’s struggles on the road, I’ll call a .500 road trip “successful”) road trip to face the NL East’s first place club, the Atlanta Braves (18-12).

Permit me to digress a moment, and talk about the Atlanta National League Baseball Club. As longtime readers may remember, I have three younger brothers. Two of those brothers (both of whom actually live in China, of all places) are die-hard fans of the Cincinnati Reds. One brother, however — the brother who is closest in age to me — well, he is a Braves fan.

Yes, I’m admitting this to you here in this public forum. I’m not proud of it, but there you are. My brother is a Braves fan. To his credit, he didn’t choose to follow the Braves during their stretch of division-winning excellence. No, he became a Braves fan back when they were led by Dale Murphy and Bob Horner and a bunch of nobodies. He pulled for Pascual Perez and Rafael Ramirez and Rick Camp and that fat tub of goo, Terry Forster. He cheered for Rick Mahler before Mahler became a good guy. He was actually happy to get Bruce Benedict’s autograph. He loved Claudell Washington and Glenn Hubbard. We played one-on-one wiffle ball in the back yard, in which I was Mario Soto facing Dale Murphy. Sheesh, this is embarrassing.

Well, as we know, the Braves have been pretty good for the last couple of decades. In 2013, a year in which the Washington Nationals were expected to run away with the NL East, the Braves have jumped out to a two-game lead by winning 12 of their first 13 games, and beating the Nats in five of seven.

I really need the Reds to win this series, if only to keep my brother from acquiring some bragging rights.

Thus far, the Reds are second in the National League in runs scored, while the Braves rank ninth. Cincinnati (.242/.329/.377) has gotten on base a little more, Atlanta (.241/.316/.413) has hit with a bit more power. Atlanta has relied heavily on the contributions of new acquisition Justin Upton, who is hitting .278/.380/.657 with a league-leading 12 homers.

Below is the Braves’ ordinary batting order, but there are a couple of big caveats here. First, it appears that Brian McCann, Atlanta’s all-star catcher, is going to be activated from the DL for this series. His replacement, Evan Gattis, has been spectacular in McCann’s absence, and this isn’t 2008 McCann, so it remains to be seen how manager Fredi Gonzalez will apportion the playing time behind the plate. Secondly, Gonzalez changes his lineup significantly nearly every day, so this is just an educated guess.

Jordan Schafer RF (.257/.435/.286)
Andrelton Simmons SS (.233/.289/.330)
Justin Upton LF (.278/.380/.657)
Freddie Freeman 1B (.313/.380/.453)
Chris Johnson 3B (.337/.365/.478)
Evan Gattis C (.261/.307/.565)
Dan Uggla 2B (.184/.304/.367)
BJ Upton CF (.154/.233/.279)

Atlanta is having a difficult time replacing RF Jason Heyward, who is out after undergoing an appendectomy, and will not play in this series (they hope he’ll be able to go on a rehab assignment soon). Schafer is getting plenty of playing time, but Reed Johnson (.250/.289/.361) sees the lineup often.

Braves fans shudder to think where the team would be without the contributions of Gattis and Chris Johnson, both of whom have hit exceptionally well. With McCann back, you’d expect Gattis’ playing time to dip a bit. Johnson has split time at 3B with our old friend Juan Francisco, who is hitting a respectable .294/.324/.485 with four homers. At the bottom of the lineup, older brother BJ Upton and the guy who started the All-Star Game instead of Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla, are suffering through miserable seasons.

In the end, this offense is extremely reliant on Justin Upton, who leads the league in homers and is top-three in OPS. One might say that the offense is over-reliant on Upton, given the absence of Heyward and the unexpected contributions of a couple of other guys. One might say that. In fact, I just did.

Atlanta’s starting staff has been among the best in the National League in 2013 so far. Their 3.23 ERA as a staff ranks second in the league (Cincinnati ranks third, at 3.39). The Braves will send out three pitchers in this series that are having nice seasons.

–Monday, 7:00 pm: Bronson Arroyo vs. Paul Maholm (3-3, 3.08 ERA)
–Tuesday, 7:10 pm; Homer Bailey vs. Kris Medlen (1-4, 3.38)
–Wednesday, 12:35 pm; Mike Leake vs. Mike Minor (3-2, 3.26)

In tonight’s series opener, the Braves will send Paul Maholm to the mound. After escaping the dreadful environs of Chicago and Pittsburgh, Maholm has thrived as an Atlanta Brave. This season, the 30-year-old lefty has been nothing short of dominant; he’s only surrendered 13 earned runs all season and 8 of those came in one start, against the Tigers!

Tuesday’s starter, Kris Medlen is a 27-year-old right-hander who pitched brilliantly last year after emerging from the bullpen to take his rightful spot in the Braves rotation. This season, his strikeout rate is down and he hasn’t been quite as good as last year. Still, this is a talented pitcher.

The scheduled starter in Wednesday’s finale is Mike Minor, a 25-year-old lefty who has been much-maligned in his Braves career. Since July 1 of last season, however, Minor has finally come into his own, and there is a case to be made that he has been the best of the Atlanta starting staff in 2013.

Overall, this is a very good Atlanta rotation, even without the injured Brandon Beachy. Cincinnati will have their hands full.

The Atlanta bullpen has been nothing short of brilliant. You already know about their closer, Craig Kimbrel, the only guy in the league who was more effective out of the ‘pen than Aroldis Chapman last year. This year, Kimbrel has nine saves with a 2.31 ERA. This guy is good.

Also effective this year has been Cory Gearrin, a 27-year-old righty from Chattanooga. Gearrin has posted a 1.32 ERA in 17 appearances. He joins Eric O’Flaherty (2.08 ERA, 14 appearances) and Anthony Varvaro (1.15 ERA, 9 appearances) to make up a tough relief corp. This group has been next to unhittable, even without the disabled Jonny Venters, and they have been a huge reason for Atlanta’s early success in 2013.

This Braves team has been good, and there is no reason to believe that they won’t be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of 2013. The pitching has been outstanding, both in the rotation and the bullpen; whether the offense will continue to produce is the biggest question mark facing Braves fans. Justin Upton is unlikely to continue hitting at this pace, and the Braves will need a healthy Jason Heyward and more production from CF, SS, and 2B to keep pace with the Nationals talented roster.

Another huge question mark is in the dugout. I know we all like to complain about Dusty Baker, but in my opinion, there is not a worse manager in all of baseball than Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez. This guy makes lineup choices and in-game decisions that will make your head hurt. Watch Gonzalez manage for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be happy that the Reds have Dusty at the helm. No, I’m not kidding about that.

You guys and gals know what I think of Dusty’s managerial ability, so you should know that I’m not making this claim lightly. Fredi Gonzalez is awful.

At any rate, this series should be a good matchup between two of the National League’s better teams. Let’s hope the Reds will go. Go Reds.

32 Responses

  1. rfay00

    This is going to be a pitching duel series IMO.

    If the Reds can take two here, that would be fantastic.

    Tonight the game is on ESPN, I think…

  2. Shchi Cossack

    LHP on the mound tonight. I haven’t seen a lineup posted anywere yet. Who starts in LF & where does he hit in the lineup?

  3. RedForever

    I have a brother who is a Braves fan and another who is a Dodgers fan, so don’t get me started!

  4. Shchi Cossack

    Tonight’s game looks wet, very wet.

    • TC

      @Shchi Cossack: Indeed. Glad I’ll be in the Pavilion tonight where it’s dry. 😉

      Actually, I’ll be the idiot on the roof above the batter’s eye standing alone.

  5. Hank Aarons Teammate

    Fredi Gonzalez is indeed horrible.

  6. dc937

    Nice write-up for the series Chad! I’ll be at my first game of the year tomorrow (glad I didn’t pick tonight’s game, I prefer dry baseball) down near the left foul pole. Hopefully the good guys can take 2 or 3 of these games against an admittedly good Braves team. I bet I’m in the minority, but I have them taking the NL East by about 3-4 games this year.

  7. Steve Mancuso

    Here’s the lineup for tonight against lefty Paul Maholm. Devin Mesoraco has crept up to 7th in the batting order. Derrick Robinson is playing LF and batting eighth. Otherwise, the standard, post-Ludwick order.

    1. Shin-Soo Choo (L) CF
    2. Zack Cozart (R) SS
    3. Joey Votto (L) 1B
    4. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
    5. Jay Bruce (L) RF
    6. Todd Frazier (R) 3B
    7. Devin Mesoraco (R) C
    8. Derrick Robinson (S) LF
    9. Bronson Arroyo (R) P

    • Shchi Cossack

      @Steve Mancuso: Nice to see BP in the starting lineup tonight. Also nice to see Robinson in LF against the LHP.

      • Steve Mancuso

        @Shchi Cossack: Forgot about the BP thing. Yes, good to see him back on the field. That situation last night – Baker’s comments and then Philllips’ were kinda weird.

  8. Liptonian

    Hey Chad, where in China do your brothers live? I am moving to Shanghai next year and it would be nice to know there are some fellow Reds fans around.

  9. TC

    “We played one-on-one wiffle ball in the back yard, in which I was Mario Soto facing Dale Murphy. Sheesh, this is embarrassing.”

    Nah. I was Pete Rose.

    • pinson343

      @TC: I was Frank Robinson, facing the hated Don Drysdale. Robby and Drysdale had quite a few dustups.

  10. TC

    This is the rare team against which I think batters should be aggressive at the plate.

  11. Greg Dafler

    (Hopefully) good news for Bronson Arroyo, the Braves only have 2 lefties (not counting Maholm) in the lineup tonight:

    1. B.J. Upton (R) CF
    2. Chris Johnson (R) 3B
    3. Justin Upton (R) RF
    4. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
    5. Evan Gattis (R) LF
    6. Brian McCann (L) C
    7. Dan Uggla (R) 2B
    8. Andrelton Simmons (R) SS
    9. Paul Maholm (L) P

    Francisco is not getting the start at 3rd base and Gattis is playing left field over left-handed batting Jordan Schafer.

    • Shchi Cossack

      @Greg Dafler: If McCann’s 7 game rehab assignment is any indication (.348/.423/.913), he is ready to rock & roll. That’s not good news since McCann is hitting .500/.625/1.167 against Arroyo…ugh! Buckle in boys and let’s hope Good Bronson takes the mound tonight.

      • pinson343

        @Shchi Cossack: Yes, McCann owns Bronson. Chipper Jones and McCann both used to, and Bronson had a lot of trouble with the Braves when those two were strong.

    • RedForever

      @Greg Dafler: I would give McCann nothing but sinkers away. No changeups, no curveballs.

  12. per14

    The Braves are probably my favorite team not named the Reds (FTNNTR). Of course, there’s no comparison between the two.

    I was 10 in 1991 and all through the 90s, when I was growing up, often the only baseball on basic cable on a summer evening were the TBS Braves games. So I watched a lot of Braves games. After awhile, they became that FTNNTR. I’m not really proud of it. But it was hard (for me at least) not to have some appreciation for Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Glavine, etc.

    • hoodlum


      I dislike the braves almost as much as i dislike the WLBs. But, I live in Dixie where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who claims to have been one of the 1,500 who used to go see Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. I find it quite easy not to like any of them, their fans, or their wack imitation of F$U’s tomahawk chop.

      Let’s go redlegs, let’s go reds.

      • pinson343

        @hoodlum: Yeh I don’t like Brave fans and their “chop”. And I couldn’t stand it when Ted Turner promoted them as “America’s team”.

  13. RedForever

    Johnny Cueto (lat/oblique) reported no issues after a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday.
    “He did very well,” Reds trainer Paul Lessard said. “He looked very good and said he felt very good.” Cueto also played long toss. He’ll meet with the Reds’ team doctor later Monday evening. Provided all goes well, Cueto could head back out on the rehab trail as early as this weekend

    Excellent News!

  14. pinson343

    “China, of all places” ? You know better than that, Chad ! Shanghai and Shenzen are international centers of finance, etc. Every young MBA I know has been to one or the other. You said a while back that one of your brothers was living in Shenzen, I think. I go to Shanghai once a year, an amazing city.

    Speaking of which, is Mr. Baseball still wearing a Reds shirt ?

    • Love4Reds

      @pinson343: The smog there is terrible! Thats the one thing I could never stand when I had to be there. Not that HK or Taipei were much better ..

      • pinson343

        @Love4Reds: Yes the pollution of the cities is terrible and getting worse. China has some very big problems to solve.