The Braves are coming home after their most successful 11 game road trip since 2001. The Braves split with both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers in back-to-back four game sets before finishing off the road trip with a series win against the Minnesota Twins. The Braves are 14-6 in their past 20 games and have played some of the sturdiest competition the league has to offer.
Now, the Braves will face their third division leader in the past two weeks. The Tampa Bay Rays, 40-23, are tied for first in the AL East with the New York Yankees. The 40-23 record is also the best in the league so needless to say, the Rays can play some baseball. The Rays have let up the least amount of runs in the AL and have scored the third most, a good recipe for success. Despite all of their success, they are just 8-11 in their past 19 games and have lost two of their past three series', so the Braves may be catching them at the right time.
Tuesday, 7:10 EST: Kenshin Kawakami (0-8, 4.48 ERA, 4.57 xFIP) vs. David Price (9-2, 2.23 ERA, 4.39 xFIP)
Once again Kenshin Kawakami is searching for his first win and once again he has a solid starter opposing him. David Price is having a breakout season but he has been blessed with a .247 BABIP and a high left on base percentage of 81%. In all honestly, Price hasn't actually thrown the ball much better than he did last season, he's simply had more things go in his favor this year. His K/BB rate is down as well, so the Braves stand more of a chance than many would give them credit for, given the pitching matchup.
Wednesday, 7:10 EST: Tommy Hanson (6-3, 3.69 ERA, 3.99 xFIP) vs. Wade Davis (5-6, 4.91 ERA, 4.95 xFIP)
If there is any game the Braves should definitely win in this series, it is this one. Davis is coming off of a solid start against the Blue Jays in which he threw 7 innings, struck out 7, walked 1, allowed 7 hits, and allowed 3 runs. With that said, Tommy is still a much better pitcher than Davis. Hopefully, Tommy can be a bit more efficient than he has been of late. Hanson has pitched into the seventh inning just once in the past calendar month.
Thursday, 7:10 EST: Tim Hudson (6-2, 2.43 ERA, 4.42 xFIP) vs. James Shields (5-5, 4.55 ERA, 3.38 xFIP)
For as lucky as Tim Hudson has gotten this season, James Shields has been equally unlucky. Hudson currently has the second lowest LD% at 11.8%, the second lowest FB% at 22.8%, the highest GB% at 65.4%, and the third lowest BABIP at .235 in the Major Leagues. In contrast, Shields has the seventh highest LD% at 23.4% and the second highest BABIP at .358 in the Majors. Huddy has gotten the results, but Shields has thrown the ball better. Shields is on pace for a career high K/9 ratio and once his batted ball numbers come back down, it should lead to more success. Hopefully, the Braves can keep his numbers skewed for at least one more outing.
The Rays Lineup:
Evan Longoria is the anchor of this lineup. He currently has a .560 SLG and a .412 wOBA. Aside from Longoria, this team has depth throughout the entire lineup. Unfortunately for the Braves, the Rays do not rely on DH production for success, so they won't be drastically hurt without the extra hitter. John Jaso, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Reid Birgnac, and Ben Zobrist all have an OPS+ over 100. The lineup does not possess a ton of home run power as only Carlos Pena (15) and Evan Longoria (11) have hit more than 6, but consistency and athleticism is what drives this offense. Upton and Crawford already have more than 20 stolen bases with Longoria adding 10 and Zobrist adding 9. Keeping them in check on the base paths will be key over the next three games. Ben Zobrist is my favorite hitter in this lineup. He's a switch hitter who can do pretty much everything offensively. He has great power, great bat control, solid patience, and solid speed. Jason Bartlett is scheduled to return from the DL on Wednesday, and he will likely take over Brignac's spot at shortstop. That may actually benefit the Braves, as Brignac has been more productive than Bartlett this season.
The Rays Bullpen:
Our old friend Rafael Soriano has done a bang up job closing out games for the Rays this season. To date, he is 16-for-16 in save opportunities with a 1.52 ERA and a 287 ERA+. Dan Wheeler (3.26 ERA, 8.84 K/9) and Grant Balfour (1.98 ERA, 8.89 K/9) have been very effective as well. Their left handed reliever, Randy Choate, has been better than his 5.51 ERA would have you believe as he has a 2.49 xFIP and a 3.60 K/BB ratio. In addition, Choate has a 5.33 K/BB ratio against left handed hitters and is limiting them to triple slash line of just .160/.204/.240.
Number of the Series: 76
76% is the percent of home games the Braves have won, the best percentage in the Majors. For whatever reason, the Braves have played exceptionally well at home and with six games at Turner against the Rays and Royals, one would hope the trend continues. At the end of this home stand, a 4-2 record would be a success and a 3-3 record, in my opinion, would be upsetting. If we lose the two-of-three to the Rays, which would be understandable, the Braves must take it to the Royals and sweep them to ensure an over .500 home stand.
The Braves haven't lost a series since May 7-9 against the Philadelphia Phillies. That is 11 straight in case you were wondering. There were four series splits during the streak, but regardless, splitting the four and two game sets and winning all of the three game sets will lead to a playoff berth. Here's to hoping the streak stays alive with a series win against the Major's top team in the Tampa Bay Rays.