ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
at ATLANTA BRAVES
First pitch: Sunday, 8:00 p.m. ET
A pair of division leaders wrap up a three-game set on Sunday night when Shelby Miller tries to pitch his Cardinals past Kris Medlen and the Braves.
The 22-year-old Miller (10-6, 2.77 ERA) will try finish July unbeaten, having gone 2-0 (St. Louis is 3-0) with a 2.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 17 K's in 17 IP during the month. Medlen (6-10, 3.78 ERA) has had a dismal follow-up to his brilliant 2012 season (10-1, 1.57 ERA), and was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation before Atlanta lost both Tim Hudson (ankle) and Paul Maholm (wrist) to long-term injuries this week. Medlen has pitched horribly during a three-start losing skid, allowing 15 runs (14 ER) and 24 hits in 14.2 innings, which equates to an 8.59 ERA and .364 opponents' BA. These number may not improve much against the surging Cardinals who enter the series with a four-game win streak and rank among the top-3 teams in the majors in runs (495, 3rd), hitting (.278 BA, 2nd) and getting on base (.339 OBP, 3rd). The Braves, who are coming off a 3-4 road trip, have a subpar .249 BA this season (19th in MLB), but rank among the top-12 teams in the majors in runs (443), OBP (.322) and slugging percentage (.409). St. Louis enters this series with the best road record in the league at 30-20 (.667), but Atlanta has the best home mark in all of baseball at 31-15 (.674). Both clubs have also thrived against right-handed starters this season, with the Cards sporting an MLB-best 51-25 mark (.671) in this situation and the Braves going 42-33 (.560, 8th in majors) versus righty starters.
While Miller (1.28 WHIP) has been nearly unhittable at home (1.74 ERA, .193 opponents' BA), he has been mediocre on the road, going 4-4 with a 4.07 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and .255 opponents' BA. However, he's been dialing up the K's in all venues (10.3 K/9 at home, 8.7 K/9 on road) and St. Louis is a hefty 13-6 (.684) when the youngster takes the hill. He's never faced the Braves in his brief career, but has preferred pitching at night (8-5, 2.68 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10.0 K/9) rather than dealing with daylight (2-1, 3.09 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 8.1 K/9). The Cardinals don't like to have their youngster throw a ton of pitches with 5.83 innings per start, but they have a slightly above-average bullpen that carries a 3.57 ERA (14th in MLB) and 1.24 WHIP (12th in majors) this season. During the four-game win streak, St. Louis relievers have a combined pitching line of 8 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB and 6 K's.
The Braves are just 9-11 in the 20 starts Medlen (1.38 WHIP) has made, but he's been much better at home this season with a 3.26 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He's never started against the Cardinals in his career in the regular season, but he has logged 9.2 innings in relief against them, sporting a mediocre 3.72 ERA, but stellar 0.93 WHIP as the result of just one walk and eight strikeouts. Medlen did pitch against St. Louis in the one-game Wild Card playoff last season and was done in by poor fielding, allowing five runs in 6.1 innings, but just two of those runs being earned. He allowed just three hits and zero walks while striking out four in that 6-3 defeat, which knocked Atlanta from the postseason. Medlen hasn't pitched more than seven innings all season and averages only 5.95 innings per start, but he knows he has an elite bullpen to hold a lead for him. Braves relievers carry a majors-best 2.68 ERA this season and their 1.18 WHIP ranks second behind only Pittsburgh. All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has saved 28-of-31 chances this season, sporting a 1.45 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and an insane 59 K's in 37.1 innings (14.2 K/9).