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July 16, 2012

What You Need to Know

Monday, July 16

by Daniel Rathman

The Weekend Takeaway
The Braves came into the All-Star break having won four games in a row, with Brian McCann trending upward and the Mets—just half a game behind Atlanta—coming to town for a three-game set at Turner Field. Pitching depth was the team’s primary concern.

After delivering the pregame speech in the National League clubhouse and watching his senior circuit mates earn home-field advantage in his eighth and final All-Star game, Chipper Jones’ mind returned to the Braves. On Thursday, he said, “If you want to see us be a consistent ballclub, let us go get a guy or two pitching-wise at the trade deadline.”

One of those guys may have arrived three days later to help the Braves sweep the Mets out of Atlanta with an 8-1 victory on Sunday. Nearly two years to the day of his most recent big-league start, Ben Sheets tossed six scoreless innings, holding the Mets to two hits while walking one and striking out five.

The Braves deemed Sheets ready after only two minor-league rehab appearances for Double-A Mississippi, and he proved them right. The 33-year-old (he turns 34 on Wednesday) sat in the low-90s with his fastball and showcased the outstanding curveball that resulted in many of his 264 strikeouts for the Brewers in 2004. For more on his comeback trail, be sure to read this Atlanta Journal-Constitution feature by Jeff Schultz.

For the Braves, Sheets’ return fueled a sweep that brought their winning streak to seven and improved their overall record to 49-39. They are still three games behind the first-place Nationals, but they are now more comfortably ahead of the third-place Mets. And the grind has only begun, as after a day off today, the Braves will host the Giants for three before traveling to Washington, D.C. for a four games in three days.

Chipper said he was “ecstatic” about Sheets’ performance in Sunday’s win. “For him to come in and build on our winning streak, seven-game winning streaks don’t come along very often. We keep the ball rolling.”

The trade deadline is still two weeks away, but the Braves may have already found one of the dependable pitchers they needed. They will find out for sure when Sheets toes the rubber in a crucial matchup with the Nationals this weekend.

What to Watch for on Monday

  • The White Sox are coming to Boston, which means that for the first time in his career, Kevin Youkilis will need to strain his ears to discern whether the Fenway Park crowd is showering him with “YOUUUUK” or “BOOOO.” Youkilis’ former manager, Bobby Valentine, added fuel to the fire yesterday, blaming the third baseman for causing the rift in the Red Sox’s clubhouse by refusing to get over Valentine’s comment that he was not “as physically and emotionally into the game as he has been in the past.” Chicago is 11-5 since Youkilis traded socks, while Boston is 7-10. Tonight's game also features Carl Crawford's return to the Red Sox lineup. (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • Wade Miley began to show signs of regression in his last two starts before the All-Star break, getting lit up by the Brewers for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings, before surrendering four runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Dodgers, who had Jerry Hairston Jr. batting third and Luis Cruz hitting fifth that day. The Diamondbacks’ lone All-Star will try to get back on track in the series opener in Cincinnati tonight (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • It’s not easy to raise your OPS by 44 points in three days this late in the season, but Michael Brantley pulled it off with an 8-for-11 weekend in the Indians’ series loss to the Blue Jays. After a slow start and only one home run during the first three months of the season, Brantley has hit three long balls in 38 July at-bats, logging a .474/.535/.842 triple slash line for the month. He will lead the Indians into Tampa Bay for a three-game series between potential wild card contenders (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • What happens when the worst pitcher in baseball meets the worst offense in baseball? We’re about to find out, as Jonathan Sanchez takes the mound to face the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. Sanchez has allowed nearly two baserunners per inning of work this season—logging a 6.75 ERA and a 34-to-43 K/BB—and looked completely out of sorts at times. The Mariners, though, are dead last in the American League with a .616 OPS against left-handed pitching this year. Don’t miss the showcase of incompetence in the series opener tonight (8:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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