(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Update: Braves have designated Livan Hernandez for assignment and recalled Kris Medlen from Triple-A Gwinnett.
The 15-straight-game gantlet through the AL East continues. The Braves are 2-4 in those games so far, against the Blue Jays and Yankees, and tonight come the Baltimore Orioles. It’s the middle series of the five the Braves are playing against arguably the toughest division in baseball and it’s pretty important, when you consider after three games with Baltimore this weekend, the Braves hit the road for series against the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Orioles enter the weekend series only one-half game out of first place in that very tough division, behind the Yankees. These are more like Cal Ripken’s Orioles of the late 1990s than the teams of recent years, whom the Braves won five straight series against at Turner Field, while going 11-4.
These Orioles have got a lot of pop (they’re tied for second in the majors with 89 homers) and they’ve got a good bullpen (their bullpen ERA of 2.41 is best in baseball, their 14 wins second-best).
Center fielder Adam Jones, who was mentioned in trade rumors with the Braves last season, is having a great season, hitting .306 with 18 homers, 39 RBIs, 12 doubles, and nine steals. Not only are the Orioles glad they didn’t trade him last year, they’ve loved him up for the next six signing him to an $85.5 million extension.
The Orioles are only 11th in the American League in starters’ ERA at 4.65. And just when it looked like the Orioles might finally be giving in to some of those weaknesses in their rotation and might come back down to earth a little bit, they won two of three in Boston and went 5-1 in a homestand against the Phillies and Pirates.
Frankly, it sounds like they’re winning with a lot of mojo right now, like they’ve got something special working. Take these little nuggets from our notes group and Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun:
Thursday night, the Orioles completed a sweep over the Pirates with five RBIs from Steve Pearce, the former underachieving Pirate who made his way to Baltimore after short stints with the Twins and Yankees this spring.
Wednesday night against the Pirates, Jake Arrieta, who had a 6.32 ERA and just been sent to the bullpen, gave up one run in seven innings a spot start for Brian Matusz, tonight’s starter vs. the Braves, who got pushed back after bunting a ball off his nose during batting practice (See, it’s not as easy as it looks, is it, American League pitchers?).
And on Sunday Steve Tolleson hit a three-run homer off Cliff Lee to tie the game against the Phillies and got optioned the next day. (He has since returned to the roster.)
Some need-to-know stuff about the Orioles: veteran second baseman Brian Roberts returned to the Os lineup after 13 months out with concussion problems on Tuesday night and promptly got three hits in his emotional return. Nick Markakis is still on the DL following wrist surgery.
Hanson vs. AL East
Ever had a good stat just kind of sneak up on you? Like “oh yeah!” That was me this week with this one from Tommy Hanson. Tonight’s starter for the Braves is 6-0 is six career starts against teams from the A.L. East.
It kind of jogs the memory doesn’t it? Remember in 2009 after he first got called up when he pitched so well in back-to-back games against the Yankees and Red Sox? I looked back over those games and realized, oh yeah, Hanson beat the Orioles in Baltimore for his first major league win too, in his second major league start.
Looking back, not only was he 6-0, he had a 1.38 ERA in those starts, allowing no more than two earned runs. Those wins over the Yankees and Red Sox were part of a 26-inning scoreless streak he had going while becoming the first NL rookie to beat the Yankees and Red Sox in back-to-back starts.
Here’s a look at those six starts:
(W) at Baltimore, June 12, 2009: Braves won 7-2
5 2/3 innings, nine hits, two earned runs, five walks, five strikeouts
(W) vs. NY Yankees, June 23, 2009: Braves win 4-0,
5 1/3 innings, four hits, no runs, five walks, four strikeouts
(W) vs. Red Sox on June 28, 2009: Braves win 2-1
6 innings, two hits, no runs, two walks, two strikeouts
(W) vs. Rays on June 16, 2010: Braves win 6-2
7 innings, three hits, no runs, one walk, six strikeouts
(W) vs. Rays on May 18, 2012: Braves win 5-3
7 innings, six hits, two earned runs, two walks, three strikeouts
(W) vs. Toronto on June 9, 2012 (Saturday): Braves win 5-2
8 innings, five hits, two earned runs, one walk, four strikeouts
Eye on Medlen
We should get some more insight into the Braves plans with Kris Medlen today. If he’s going to return to the bullpen, the Braves could recall him today and send Anthony Varvaro back down, since he last started for Gwinnett on Tuesday night.
Eric O’Flaherty was planning to throw a bullpen today to test out his elbow and figured a return Saturday was most likely.
With all the stories about Matt Cain and his perfect game, and the five no-hitters thrown in baseball already this season, I came across this factoid from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. He was talking about Cain’s 14 strikeouts against the Astros on Wednesday night matching Sandy Koufax’s 14 strikeouts in his 1965 perfect game, and the debate as to whether that makes it the best pitched game of all-time.
Verducci dug up this: “Ken Holtzman of the Chicago Cubs may have thrown one of the most impressive no-hitters ever, strikeouts be damned — literally. Holtzman no-hit the Braves on Aug. 19, 1969 at Wrigley Field without striking out a single batter. The ball was put in play 27 times — 15 times in the air and 12 times on the ground — and 27 times an out was recorded. It was done once before, by Sam Jones in 1923, and never again. Let’s see one of today’s pitchers pull off that trick.”
Love it. You talk about being democratic….Our congrats to Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera, two former Braves who played a big hand in Cain’s perfection with great catches in the outfield, especially Blanco’s. Wow. Great moment for him.
OK lineup and more from the ballpark this afternoon.