Where: Turner Field
Probable Pitchers: Friday: Mike Minor vs. Scott Feldman; Saturday: Julio Teheran vs. Carlos Villanueva; Sunday: Tim Hudson (0-0, 6.23) vs. Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00)
Keys: The Atlanta Braves will look to take advantage of a suspect Chicago Cubs‘ pitching staff. In 2012, the Cubs finished near the bottom of the National League in starter’s ERA (4.52) and bullpen ERA (4.49). The rotation looks different, but it’s debatable whether or not it is much improved. Samardzija leads the rotation and pitched a two-hit shutout in eight innings in the opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Feldman and Villanueva have both served as relievers and starters throughout their careers and shouldn’t pose too big of a threat to the Braves’ lineup. Closer Carlos Marmol is shaky at the end of games. He features lively stuff but struggles with command and has allowed three runs in 1 1/3 innings so far in 2013. The Braves need to take advantage and score some runs to give the pitching rotation some insurance in this series.
What to Watch: Teheran makes his first start of the 2013 season after an impressive spring. The talented prospect struggled in the minors in 2012 but looked to regain his 2011 form with a return to his old delivery and renewed confidence. Will that translate into the 2013 season?
How does the catching situation play out? Gerald Laird got two of the three starts against the Philadelphia Phillies, but Evan Gattis will be in the lineup Friday night. Laird is 2-for-7 with an RBI while Gattis is 1-for-4 with a home run on the young season. Laird provides solid play, but Gattis has much more upside at the plate. Keep an eye on their performance this weekend.
The third base position has been labeled as a platoon situation between Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco. So far, Johnson got the starts against the left-handers while Francisco played against the right-handed pitcher. The Braves are scheduled to face three straight right-handed pitchers this weekend. Will manager Fredi Gonzalez continue a straight platoon and give Francisco all three starts? Or does he prefer to keep Johnson active? I’d lean to the latter and would expect Johnson to get a start this series.
Outlook: This is the type of series where the Braves need to take care of business if they are truly going to contend for the National League East this season. The Braves are about to play 16 of their next 18 games on the road, so it’s important they end this homestand with some momentum. A sweep is possible, but Samardzija is capable of throwing another gem. Winning the series is a realistic goal.