Sorry for missing yesterday. I had some important business to take care of. Now, on to even more important business...the Braves and Astros.
Brian Jordan in, Joey Devine in, Horacio Ramirez in, Blaine Boyer out, Danny Kolb out, Kyle Davies out.
Blaine Boyer awoke Monday without any feeling in his arm. Thie is a big blow for the Braves, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Joey Devine gets a chance now to show us what he can do under the microscope.
Hudson, Smoltz, Sosa for games 1, 2, and 3. It sounds like Ramirez and Thomson will be used in long relief roles but that could change at any given moment.
Now for our position by position matchups...
Catcher - Brian McCann, Johnny Estrada vs. Brad Ausmus
Sure, Ausmus has the experience and the arm, but he provides virtually no offense. The Braves pitchers love throwing to McCann. If Ausmus wasn't a veteran leader, this matchup would be no contest.
Advantage: Braves, Slightly
1st Base - Adam LaRoche, Julio Franco vs. Lance Berkman
On the surface, this clearly looks to be an advantage for the Astros. But upon closer inspection, the LaRoche/Franco tandem combined to hit 29 homers and drive in 119 runs. Not too shabby. The problem here is that LaRoche is usually either all or nothing. Consistency is not his game.
2nd Base - Marcus Giles vs. Craig Biggio
Biggio is still productive and the leader of this team. He hit 26 homers during the regular season, but is just a shadow of his former self. The wheels aren't what they used to be and the glove isn't even close. Giles, on the other hand, is bordering on stardom. He fields his position well, plays hard, hits the ball to all fields, and provides tremendous pop for a middle infielder.
3rd Base: Chipper Jones vs. Morgan Ensberg
In any other year, this battle would be an advantage for the Braves. But this was Ensberg's breakthrough season and he put up some big numbers. Chipper can still knock the ball around, but injuries have slowed the great warrior.
Shortstop - Rafael Furcal vs. Adam Everett
About the only thing Everett does better than Furcal is field his position, and that gap isn't nearly as large as people think. Furcal can drive the Braves when they're struggling and provide the spark the offense needs. Everett has become a liability at the plate and is prone to swinging at bad pitches on a regular basis.
Advantage: Braves, Easily
Left Field - Ryan Langerhans/Kelly Johnson vs. Chris Burke/Others!
Left Field is a battle of rookies but despite Burke's bright future, he hasn't shown the ability to consistently get on base or hit with any power. Langerhans and Johnson didn't light up the world either but put up respectable on base numbers and combined for 34 doubles, 17 homers, and 82 RBI.
Center Field - Andruw Jones vs. Willy Taveras
With all due respect to Taveras, do we really need to analyze this position? Taveras is a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, but Andruw Jones is a superstar who may someday find himself in Cooperstown.
Advantage: Braves, Easily
Right Field - Jason Lane vs. Jeff Francoeur
This is an interesting matchup actually. Lane povided his share of offense for Houston, clubbing 26 homers and driving in 78 runs. He has a strong arm and covers a lot of ground on defense. Francoeur is like Lane in many ways...free swinger with good power and stingy on defense. Jeff may be more of a leader, but he is still wet behind the ears and this is his first taste of playoff action.
Starting Pitching - Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and Jorge Sosa vs. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Roy Oswalt
Hudson and Smoltz are going to give you their best effort, but will that be enough to compete with Pettitte and Clemens? And if that wasn't enough, the pressure is truly going to be on Jorge Sosa to come up with a big outing against 20 game winner, Roy Oswalt. Houston's big three have ERAs of 2.39, 1.87, and 2.94 respectively. I think they're doing something right.
Bullpen - Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, and Brad Lidge vs. Kyle Farnsworth, Joey Devine, Horacio Ramirez, and others...
Farnsworth has been great for the Braves, but I can't say that much for the others. Here's hoping that Joey Devine shines on the big stage. Brad Lidge is as dominant as any closer in baseball, and he's strong enough to give you more than the customary one inning from a closer. Qualls and Wheeler have done a good job supporting Lidge in setup roles this season.
Advantage: Astros, Easily
Manager - Bobby Cox vs. Phil Garner
You have to like what Garner did to turn this team around after a rough early season start. But, you have to like what Cox did even more with 18 rookies and a pitching staff that suffered one injury after another. And oh yeah, 14 straight division titles has to count for something!
I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Braves pitchers are a bit overmatched by the Astros' staff in this series. However, Atlanta's offense seems to have a clear advantage over Houston...and of course, we have Bobby Cox!
I think this will turn out to be a great, low scoring series with the victor winning in 5 games. Of course, that victor will be...
YOUR ATLANTA BRAVES!
Let's go Atlanta!!