The Braves are returning to Atlanta and another Florida team follows with them. After shaming the Miami Marlins so thoroughly that the coaching staff had to be executed and martial law instituted, the Braves will defend their ownership of the swamp state in a 2 game set against the Tampa Bay Rays. Atlanta looked sharp against a slipping Miami team, but there are problems and story lines abounding entering the brief homestand for the Bravos. On the other side, the Tampa Bay Rays may not actually have any interest in defending the honor of their in-state counterpart, but they are not looking past the two-gamer. The Rays are running second place in what has been and will continue to be a tight AL East race. They drew the injury plagued and talent starved Braves while the first place Yankees drew the storming juggernaut that is the Washington Nationals. It’s a chance for Atlanta to pick up some much needed back of the rotation victories, and an opportunity for the Rays to gain ground and perhaps even take their division’s lead.
After Shelby Miller’s spectacular outing, a few interesting threads began to emerge. First, the injury to Phil Gosselin. The loss of Kelly Johnson and Gosselin within a week of one another wouldn’t typically cause big problems for a major league organization. No, not typically. But in the curious case of the 2015 Braves, a problem has indeed arisen from their injuries. Johnson and Gosselin represented two of the primary infield options for Atlanta. Stack the loss of those two with Chris Johnson’s broken wrist and you end up with a Braves infield consisting of Freeman, Peterson, Simmons, and Callaspo–with no backups options. To mitigate this situation the Braves have brought up storyline number two, the thirty year-old Cuban youngster, Adonis Garcia. Garcia has been tearing through the International League so far. After Maikel Franco was called up to the Phillies, Garcia became the International league leader in batting average with a .351 mark over 34 games. Garcia is a third-baseman whose bat should be welcome off the bench. Word on the street is that his defense will preclude him from offering up any value as a backup in the field. When asked for comment on this, an anonymous industry insider was quoted as saying, “I know nothing about him.” Fredi Gonzalez seems to know enough to bring him up for his first shot at the majors, though. This brings us to a brief mention of sort of storyline number three.
Rumors were raised by Ken Rosenthal yesterday that Fredi Gonzalez may be coaching for his job this season. According to the Fox reporter, Frank Wren was keen on firing Gonzalez but was not able to get around to it before accepting his own severance check from the Atlanta organization. While Hart has expressed his full confidence in Fredi before, it is worth noting that the discussion of Gonzalez’s future has been had before within the upper ranks. Nothing is going to come of this while the Braves are playing at or around .500 ball, but it will likely be a point of discussion during this series. And it could be a situation that escalates quickly if things start to fall apart. With this team, that can happen at any moment, as we have seen.
As for the actual games against the Rays, there are going to be two of them. That much is certain for the time being. Both teams have slipped deep into the reaches of lineup anonymity this season. But the Rays still have a few more weapons at their disposal than Atlanta, even if many won’t recognize the names of those weapons. Tampa Bay is currently being lead by Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier who have amassed 1.5 and 1.3 fWAR respectively. Forsythe has done most of that work with his bat. His .375 wOBA and 147 wRC+ lead the Rays regulars on the season. These two are complimented by the remains of Evan Longoria, David DeJesus, and the recent revelation of Joey Butler. These hitters will square off against two 23 year-old rookies in Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez. Foltynewicz has shown himself capable of handling major league lineups, but his control is still a concern that can and will rear its head from time to time. Williams Perez is a big guy who specializes in ground ball outs. He has done well at every stop in organization so far. While he’s not the caliber of prospect that Tyrell Jenkins, Matt Wisler, and Foltynewicz are, he does possess enough potential to fill the gaping hole in the back of the Braves rotation.
Atlanta will face the struggling Erasmo Ramirez and the excelling Jake Odorizzi. Ramirez has run the gamut of poor pitching this season. Starting in the pen and working his way into the rotation, very little has gone well for the change up specialist. He’s going to be going up against a strange Atlanta lineup which includes the mystifyingly hot Todd Cunningham, Freddie Freeman, Nick “Mr. OBP” Markakis, and some other people who aren’t injured yet. The Braves hit well in Miami, and Ramirez presents them with a great chance to continue that trend. On Wednesday their work will be more thickly cut out for them, though. Jake Odorizzi has been stellar this season. Making good use of his rising fastball and explosive cutter, the 25 year older comes to Atlanta with a 2.36 ERA and 3.55 xFIP.
This will be a tough series for the Braves to take, but they certainly have a chance to split. And now, after too many words, here is your series preview graphic.