On Deck: Braves at Blue Jays

On Deck: Braves at Blue Jays

ATLANTA BRAVES at TORONTO BLUE JAYS

STARTING PITCHERS

TUESDAY, 7:07 p.m.

RHP Mike Soroka (2-1, 2.57 ERA) vs. LHP Jaime Garcia (2-5, 5.71 ERA)

Small sample size fun: Soroka is 2-0, 1 ER, 12.1 IP vs. the Mets, 0-1, 5 ER, 8.2 IP in his other two MLB starts. His bid for a no-hitter on Wednesday ended in the seventh inning. Expect his pitch count to be monitored closely, as he’s still building endurance following a DL stint.

WEDNESDAY, 12:37 p.m.

RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-0,1.93 ERA) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (8-3, 3.48 ERA)

Sanchez spent six weeks on the DL earlier this season recovering from a right hamstring strain. In his three June starts, he’s 2-0, .138 opponents’ batting average, 0.62 WHIP. A reminder that the broadcast of this game is exclusive to Facebook Watch.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Canada Day comes early

Not only are the Braves the surprising leaders of the NL East, they bring significant Canadian content into this two-game series. The starting pitcher on Tuesday, Mike Soroka, is from Calgary and made his MLB debut earlier this year. The parents of star first baseman Freddie Freeman were born in Ontario, and he represented Canada at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. And let’s not forget GM Alex Anthopoulos of Montreal, the former Blue Jays GM, who inherited a promising young team when he took the Atlanta job and has watched it blossom.

2. Oh, those kids

The Blue Jays won’t face 20-year-old OF Ronald Acuna Jr., who tumbled awkwardly on the bases in Boston last month and landed on the DL, but they will have to contend with two other rising young players in 21-year-old INF Ozzie Albies, who entered play Monday leading the National League in extra-base hits (39) and runs (53), and 23-year-old INF Dansby Swanson, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft.

3. Star search

The Braves have three players leading at their positions in fan voting to determine the NL starters for the all-star game — Freeman, Albies, and OF Nick Markakis. Markakis made his MLB debut in 2006, but he never has been an all-star. This season, he is hitting .327, which would be a career best if he can maintain that average. He has won two Gold Glove awards, and showed why with a diving catch to end Atlanta’s win on Sunday.

STACKING UP

(MLB rankings, yesterday’s games not included)

Toronto Stat Atlanta

320 (11th) Runs 344 (4th)

93 (5th) HR 83 (13th)

25 (T-24th) SB 42 (T-8th)

.235 (23rd) BA .258 (5th)

.310 (21st) OBP .325 (6th)

4.89 (25th) SP ERA 3.24 (3rd)

3.96 (17th) RP ERA 4.03 (19th)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

DH/1B Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays

Over his past 10 games, he is hitting .359 (14 for 39).

1B Freddie Freeman, Braves

Among MLB players entering play Monday, Freeman was second in OBP (.427),  fourth in batting average (.337), fourth in hits (91), fourth in OPS (1.012), fifth in slugging percentage (.585), tied for sixth in RBIs (49). The left-handed hitter isn’t bothered by facing a lefty pitcher, either. He’s hitting .381 against lefties this season.

DUENCH DECLARES

The last time a pitcher from Western Canada faced the Blue Jays on a Tuesday at Rogers Centre, James Paxton threw a no-hitter. No pressure, then, Mike Soroka. Expect both teams to win one game.

WAR BOARD 

Wins Above Replacement Leaders (yesterday’s games not included)

BLUE JAYS

1. J.A. Happ 2.0

2. Teoscar Hernandez 1.2

3. Luke Maile 1.0

4. Kevin Pillar 0.9

5. Yangervis Solarte 0.9

BRAVES

1. Freddie Freeman 3.6

2. Nick Markakis 2.2

3. Mike Foltynewicz 2.0

4. Ozzie Albies 1.7

5. Sean Newcomb 1.7

MLB LEADERS

1. Mike Trout LAA 6.1

2. Max Scherzer WSH 4.6

3. Jose Ramirez CLE 4.6

4. Mookie Betts BOS 4.1

5. Luis Severino NYY 3.7

FanGraphs WAR explained: 1-2 season WAR, role player; 2-3 WAR, solid starter; 3-4 WAR, good player; 4-5 WAR, all-star; 5-6 WAR, superstar; 6+ WAR, MVP.

Mike Soroka makes 'second debut' in Canada return

Mike Soroka makes 'second debut' in Canada return

Mike Soroka first took the Rogers Centre mound when he was 15. Only five years later, he’ll do so again this time as a major leaguer.

The Braves play a two-game series in Toronto on Tuesday and Wednesday, and their top pitching prospect will start game one.

Soroka hails from Calgary, in western Canada. But his best and earliest memories at a professional ballpark were in Toronto.

“Even though I’m from the other side of Canada, it’s the one team you grew up watching,” Soroka said. “It’ll be pretty special.”

He went to his first MLB game with his father after they won free tickets in a raffle. They saw the Blue Jays face the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays’ academy hosts various amateur tournaments, two of which Soroka competed in at Rogers Centre. His first time on a major-league mound was in Toronto.

“It’s almost like a second debut of sorts,” he said. “Just get out there, knowing that a bunch of friends are going to be coming there, a lot of friends who’ve been Blue Jays fans for a long time too. … I’m just going to be familiar with the Rogers Center, so that’s going to be cool too. And I’ll be out there on a mound I’ve been on before too, so that’s pretty awesome.”

It’ll be difficult to replicate fellow Canadian James Paxton’s performance in Toronto. The Mariners lefty tossed a no-hitter May 8 in a 5-0 win.

“Of all places, to do it in Toronto, it’s pretty amazing,” Paxton said after the game.

Soroka doesn’t know Paxton personally, perhaps meeting him at a Baseball Canada banquet in years past. He remembered what Paxton did, and he understood how meaningful it must’ve been.

Now it’s his turn. And there won’t be a shortage of friends and family in the crowd (Soroka wouldn’t begin to guess a number). 

But the 20-year-old doesn’t anticipate nerves or extra excitement. After all, it’s only his fifth major-league start. He’s still figuring out what it takes to succeed against the best hitters in the world.

“There’s a certain amount of amped up you can have in the big leagues,” Soroka said. “I don’t think I’ll be more any more amped up than I was my last four, especially because it’s a new thing right now. I don’t think I’m running short on adrenaline.”

He’s not running short of momentum either. Soroka’s coming off his best outing in the bigs, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finishing with 6-1/3 shut-out innings against the Mets. 

New York was the first team to face him twice after they were shut out in six innings during his first career start.

Soroka wasn’t satisfied. He felt he could’ve been more efficient throughout the night despite exiting with the fewest number of pitches in his young career (74).

“For the most part, I really wasn’t (throwing) strike one,” he said. “I think I could’ve been ahead of more hitters. But 2-0, 2-1, we were feeling change-up, sliders. That’s where the sinker would play up. We got lots of earlier outs that way. So just being able to do that was huge for that game, and it’s going to be something to carry into the next one for sure.”

Soroka’s allowed one or no runs in three of his four starts, the lone blemish to a veteran Giants team that pounded every Braves pitcher in a three-game sweep.

Tuesday marks his latest ‘most important’ start, but it’s the first in his native country. He and the Braves will hope his second debut goes as well as his first.

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Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Around the NL East: Braves get a chance to pull ahead

Unsurprisingly the Atlanta Braves fully surpassed the Washington Nationals as the frontrunners in the National League East.

Atlanta has gotten healthy and appears, whereas Washington continues to struggle to find offense and is continually on the mend.

Unlike the week prior, the NL East was above .500 due to the Miami Marlins performing quite well. While it should be no sign of a turnaround, Miami’s offense has some liftoff.

While we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and giving unneeded significance to a series in June, the Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies series at the end of this week is one to watch. Washington is on their worst stretch of games since the start of the season. Two of their top seven arms are on the DL, and they need some breaks to go their way. Philadelphia has been off-and-on for a month, and a series win over the Nats could give them the justification they need to battle for the NL East crown.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 42-29
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ Toronto Blue Jays (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)

It should not be that noteworthy that the Braves jumped out to a lead in the East after their schedule this past week. Playing two of the bottom teams in the National League, the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, Atlanta took care of business going 5-1 on the week.

Understanding it is against bottom half competition, their pitching was superb by some key starters in their rotation. Of course Mike Soroka finally came back from rehab with 6.1 innings of one-hit baseball, along with a brief break by Julio Tehran. Occupying the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Soroka will significantly bolster the bridge to Tehran, who struck out 11 Padres on Sunday.

For position players, Freddie Freeman hit three home runs this week despite seeing a 10-game hitting streak come to a close. They also still are waiting for their star left fielder Robert Acuna Jr. to get back. He was sent to the 10-day DL back on May 28.

A relatively easy June continues for the Braves with only Toronto and Baltimore on deck this week.

Washington Nationals

Record: 37-31
Last 10: 4-6
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (2), vs. Baltimore Orioles (3), vs. Philadelphia Phillies (3)

The best news for the Nationals after getting swept by the Blue Jays is honestly their young phenom Juan Soto. Hitting .312 in 77 at-bats, the outfield call-up has far exceeded expectations.

Almost singlehandedly, Soto gave them their lone victory of the week by hitting two dingers in Yankee Stadium. He brought home four of their five runs in a one-run win.

By all means he has earned his starting spot with the top club, alongside the now healthy Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper. However, where does Michael A. Taylor fit in? Tough decisions to be had in the Nats clubhouse.

An eight-game home stand is severely needed for a squad that had dropped six of their last eight and is now 3.5 games back in the division. Not to mention they are still without Stephen Strasburg, Jeremy Hellickson, and Brandon Kintzler.

Don’t worry the All-Star break, which will be in their home yard, is right around the corner.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 37-32
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3), @ Washington Nationals (3)

Two series wins over the Colorado Rockies and in Milwaukee was a good pick-me-up for the young Philadelphia squad.

Unlike the week prior, there are finally some runners getting on base. None more than Rhys Hoskins who had eight hits (three of them long balls), and four walks in the past six games. They’ve even got some lively play from shortstop Scott Kingery, batting .333 in the past week.

Still their starters have to give them more consistency to give them a chance in the NL East. That includes Jake Arrieta (5-5) who consistently cannot make it to the sixth inning. He’s given up a combined 13 runs in only 14.2 innings pitched in his last three starts.

A chance for them to really pull their worth and possibly leapfrog the Nationals this week.

New York Mets

Record: 30-38
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Colorado Rockies (4), vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (3)

All of the New York Mets ‘stars’ are still on the disabled list. All two of them.

Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes were anticipated to come back this past week, but neither got the nod from Mickey Callaway.

With a solid uptick in production by Jose Reyes, who still has a .165 average on the year, there is some hope with the production from their infield.

Miami Marlins

Record: 28-44
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: @ San Francisco Giants (3), @ Colorado Rockies (3)

Twice this week Miami had a chance to get their first sweep over an opponent this year. Sure one team was the Baltimore Orioles, but the other was the San Francisco Giants.

It wasn’t necessarily because of dominant pitching either. Their lineup pieced together some timely hits, including three triples from center fielder Lewis Brinson and three home runs by J.T. Realmuto.

Speaking of pitching though, closer Kyle Barraclough saw four appearances without allowing a run, garnering three saves. If his team can get him more opportunities he could be up there with Kenley Jansen and Sean Dolittle as one of the top closers in the NL.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: 

Like last year's Twins, young Braves ahead of schedule

Like last year's Twins, young Braves ahead of schedule

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Atlanta Braves’ Ender Inciarte, right, hugs to Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran (49) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, June 17, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

On the morning of June 18 two years ago, the Atlanta Braves were 21-46. Now they’re atop the NL East.

Atlanta has turned its stocked farm system into a major league contender faster than expected, and after Sunday’s 4-1 win over San Diego, the Braves lead second-place Washington by 3 1/2 games. At 42-29, they’re even with Milwaukee for the National League’s best record and look poised to be a factor in what should be an entertaining race for that league’s five postseason spots.

After three straight seasons with at least 90 losses, Atlanta is making a jump similar to what Minnesota did a season ago, when the Twins improved from 59 wins to 85 and earned a wild card.

If you’re worried Atlanta is a fluke, there aren’t many obvious red flags. The Braves have a run differential of plus-67, the second-best mark in the NL. They’ve been fortunate at times (11-4 in one-run games) and unfortunate at times (1-6 in extra innings).

The Braves are second in the NL in OPS after finishing 11th a year ago. Their ERA has improved from 12th to fifth. They have an MVP candidate in slugger Freddie Freeman, and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies has 16 home runs. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is on the disabled list after a knee injury, but he’s been considered one of the game’s top prospects. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, has improved his OPS from .636 a season ago to .737.

That formula – Freeman surrounded by young standouts – could serve the Braves well for a while, and Atlanta has also received a lift from some older contributors. Nick Markakis is hitting .327, and Anibal Sanchez is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA for the Braves after signing a minor league contract before the season.

In November, Atlanta was hit with major penalties for circumventing international signing rules. That might hurt the Braves in the future, but it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on their ability to compete in 2018.

Other developments from around the majors:

MIDSEASON RUN

The Dodgers are 11-3 in June and have recovered from their poor start. They now trail Arizona by just 1 1/2 games atop the NL West.

Los Angeles can hope this season is following a similar trajectory to 2017, when the Dodgers went 21-7 in June on their way to 104 wins.

HIGHLIGHT

If you’re concerned about pace of play in baseball, you probably weren’t crazy about Joe Maddon’s maneuvering Wednesday. Maddon began the bottom of the eighth by bringing Steve Cishek in to pitch for the Cubs. After a single, Brian Duensing came on to pitch, but Cishek stayed in the game in left field. That enabled Cishek to go back to the mound one out later, with Duensing taking over in left. Duensing eventually went back to pitch and finished out the inning.

It was a clever way for Maddon to keep both pitchers available throughout the inning, but Chicago still lost 1-0 to Milwaukee.

LINE OF THE WEEK

San Diego’s Freddy Galvis went 5 for 5, including a three-run homer, in a 9-3 win over Atlanta on Friday night. Galvis drove in four runs in the game.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Braves re-sign RHP Jackson

Braves re-sign RHP Jackson

The Atlanta Braves re-signed right-hander Luke Jackson less than a week after designating him for assignment to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Jackson, 26, had a 5.06 ERA in four appearances with the Braves before being sent down on Wednesday. He elected free agency two days later.

Jackson has excelled while at Gwinnett this season, compiling a 2-1 record with a 1.69 ERA in 10 games, including one start.

He’ll replace fellow reliever Luiz Gohara, who heads back to Gwinnett and is expected to join the rotation.

Gohara had a 6.89 ERA across 15 2/3 innings and seven games (one start) with Atlanta.

–Field Level Media