(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
So the clock is ticking louder the closer we get to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, and while the Braves continue to pursue pitching help, they’ll send a guy to the mound tonight who’s been a pretty good acquisition this month already.
Ben Sheets makes his third start for the Braves tonight in the series opener against the Phillies, and he’s yet to give up a run. Sheets pitched six shutout innings to win each of his first two starts with the Braves, first against the Mets, then against the Nationals, and he’ll take aim tonight against the Phillies.
He’s facing Cole Hamels, who makes his first start tonight since signing his six-year, $144 million extension with the Phillies on Wednesday. Imagine Hamels is pretty motivated to have a good showing tonight.
And that would go for the entire Phillies team. Usually it’s the Braves with a lot riding on a series with the Phillies – and it’s not like this isn’t important for the home team – but the Phillies may use this weekend’s series to determine if they should sell a few key pieces like Shane Victorino and/or Hunter Pence before Tuesday’s deadline. Victorino and Joe Blanton might be traded either way since both are free agents at the end of the season.
The Phillies come in hot, winners of four in a row and eight of their past 11. They’ve won four straight games in their final at-bat, including walk-offs in the three of them. But then again, three of those wins came against the Brewers whose bullpen has been pretty abysmal. The Brewers lead the majors with 19 blown saves, one more than the Rockies’ 18.
Hamels gave up five runs on 10 hits in his last start against the Giants, including three home runs allowed. But he still got cheered walking off the field by Phillies fans, who knew there was a chance the Phillies might trade him. market.
“It really showed me something,” Hamels told the Philly media…., and then added this. “At the end of the day, good game or bad game, you realize that there was a sellout watching every move that you played and talking about every move and can’t wait for the next one. The 250 straight sellouts in something pretty impressive.”
But overall, Hamels is pitching well. He’s gone 2-1 with a 3.02 ERA in six starts since mid-June. He’s walked 14, struck out 39, and before Saturday had given up only three home runs in five starts.
Mike Minor and Blanton face each other Saturday night, then Tim Hudson faces Roy Halladay on Sunday afternoon. The Braves haven’t seen Halladay since May, before he needed two months off to rest a sore shoulder.
The Braves have 10 games in this homestand against sub .500 teams with the last-place Phillies, second-to-last place Marlins and majors-last-place Astros coming into town. The Nationals (59-39) have won seven in a row to match the Yankees with the best record in baseball. So the Braves can’t afford to overlook anybody.
Zack Greinke is scheduled to make his next start Sunday, and while the Brewers might want to complete a trade before then, it seems to be becoming more of a seller’s market for him, which doesn’t bode well for the Braves. They have been in the mix of teams pursuing him, but with the price on Josh Johnson reportedly steep, and the Phillies making it clear Cliff Lee is not on the market, the Rangers, Angels and Braves could all be vying for the same pitchers.
I’m told the Rangers have the most to offer in a Greinke deal if they decide to go all in there. The Braves have indicated they don’t want to give up multiple prospects for a two-month rental, and while they were willing to trade Randall Delgado for Dempster, giving up one of their top pitching prospects (Delgado or Julio Teheran) plus another prospect for Greinke, who is unlikely now to negotiate a long-term deal in the process, is not something the Braves seem prepared to do.
The Braves weren’t interested in Matt Garza but now that his sore triceps muscle will likely push back his next start past the deadline, other teams like the Dodgers who were pursuing him will have to look elsewhere. Might the Dodgers up their ante for Dempster now?
I know the Braves have kept an eye on James Shields, but the Rays are likely to wait and see how Evan Longoria is after his rehab assignment (he plays tonight in Gwinnett, after going 0-for-3 with a walk against Delgado and the Gwinnett Braves last night) before they decide whether to trade Shields, and when and if they do, the price could be high – multiple prospects.
The Braves are in need of bullpen help as well, though if Jonny Venters continues like he has since his return from the DL (three scoreless innings, one hit, no walks, four strikeouts), he could give them the equivalent of a deadline acquisition.
The Braves have promoted first-round pick Sean Gilmartin to Triple-A Gwinnett. From what I’m told this isn’t about the left-hander making an immediate impact at the major league level but to give him a chance to have a month of Triple-A experience under his belt heading into next season.
OK, lineup and more from the ballpark shortly.
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Jason Heyward RF
4. Chipper Jones 3B
5. Freddie Freeman 1B
6. Brian McCann C
7. Dan Uggla 2B
8. Paul Janish SS
9. Ben Sheets