1. Is John Smoltz vs. Byung Hyun-Kim the biggest mismatch in pitching history? We'll all be a little anxious to see if Smoltz is over his coughing-induced back injury, but assuming that he's healthy, you have to assume that the Braves will do well this afternoon. By the way, didn't J.D. Drew get his infamous neck injury from swimming in a pond in Hahira about this time last year?
2. The Braves' hot streak has coincided loosely with the schedule finally leaving the NL East. The East is 34-18 against the NL Central, which apparently has one very good team and a bunch of mediocrity, and the NL West, which is similar, although the Dodgers aren't as good as the Cardinals. It's never a good idea to make bold statements about October in May (or, as the Astros proved last year, mid-August), but the Cards, Braves, and Marlins all look like the class of the NL right now. The Dodgers are the best bet to join them in the playoffs because I'm not sold on the D-Backs (or the rest of that division, for that matter.) Speaking of the D-Backs, Russ Ortiz has a 5.21 ERA, an ungodly 1.66 WHIP, and 19 walks (vs. 16 strikeouts) in 38 innings. Color me pleased that he no longer pitches for our local baseball collective.
3. Nice win for the Braves last night, although the bullpen has been predictably taxed in Coors Field. They've risen to the challenge, throwing 8 and 2/3rds scoreless innings, but they could be overworked by the end of this road trip. (Speaking of the trip, I'm guessing 7-5, 4-2 against the Padres and Rockies and 3-3 against the Dodgers and Red Sox.) The offense has only managed one home run in two games at Coors Field, but they've taken advantage of the wide open spaces in the outfield to hit 11 doubles in two games. That's consistent with the Braves' offense this year, which is 2nd in the NL in doubles, but only 8th in home runs hit. That stands to reason with line drive hitters like Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles, Johnny Estrada, and Adam LaRoche in the lineup. Unfortunately, the Braves haven't paired line-drive hitting with a patient approach, as they're next to last in the NL in pitches per plate appearance. You would think that such impatience would hurt against good pitchers, where the objective is usually to tire the starter out and then prey upon the bullpen, but the Braves' recent success against Pedro, Oswalt, Mulder, and Burnett seems to indicate that jumping on early pitches is the way to go, rather than letting those guys get ahead in the count.
4. The Raul Mondesi death watch continues. He has the lowest OBP of any of the Braves' regulars and now that Ryan Langerhans is hitting well and playing very good defense, it's only a matter of time before Mondesi goes the way of Rico Brogna and Ken Caminiti, two other players whose final stop was in Atlanta in their over-the-hill years. Langerhans has three homers and ten RBI in 44 at bats; Mondesi has three homers and 13 RBI in 108 At bats. Langerhans' stats are inflated by his enormous Sunday against the Astros, but if he continues to play well over the next couple weeks, then a change is in the cards. Mondesi has not only been unproductive, but he's taken a large number of at bats (108 - 4th on the team), so his poor hitting has had an impact. Only nine qualified players in the NL have a lower OPS. He's last on the Braves in runs created; a lineup of nine Raul Mondesis would score 2.77 runs per game. All that said, I'm sure he feels the footsteps and knows that he has a finite amount of time to turn his season around.
5. On a happier note, Chipper Jones is quietly third in the NL in OPS, showing that his sub-par 2004 was just the result of a flukish first half and not evidence of an overall decline.