On Thursday night, the Atlanta Braves will begin a four game series in St. Louis that has huge implications in the National League Central. The St. Louis Cardinals are one game behind the division leading Pittsburgh Pirates, and are just one game ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. This series is the start of an epic 17 game stretch for the Cardinals, in which every opponent they face will be the Braves, Pirates or Reds.
For the Braves, however, the series isn’t critical, as Atlanta retains a commanding lead in the NL East with a 15 game disparity between them and the second place Washington Nationals. The biggest things I’ll be looking for during this Cardinals series will be the continued development of Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy’s reintegration into the rotation and most importantly, Paul Maholm’s return from the disabled list.
The lefty spent over a month on the DL with a bruised wrist after his performance had taken a dive. Over three starts previous to the DL stint, Maholm had given up 15 earned runs in 13.1 innings pitched; the month before in June, he gave up 15 earned runs over six starts and 37.2 innings pitched. Maholm pitched one rehab game where he gave up one earned run over 5.2 innings pitched; it was reported afterward that he felt good about his command.
Maholm will be taking on Cardinals’ pitcher Joe Kelly, who sports a 2.15 ERA as a starting pitcher in eight games this season. Kelly, who has 31.2 innings pitched as a reliever this season as well, has outperformed his relief ERA of 4.26, providing even more depth to the pitching corps in St. Louis. Kelly gave up no runs in his last start against the Chicago Cubs; he walked three and gave up four hits over six innings pitched.
The Braves will play their first of many games without right fielder Jason Heyward Thursday night. He was hit in the face with a 90mph fastball on Wednesday by New York Mets pitcher, Jon Niese. The leadoff hitter had been outstanding since the move to the one hole; he has hit .341/.414/.580 with five home runs as a leadoff hitter this season. Heyward will be out 4-6 weeks, but will hopefully be back and ready for the postseason.