The Atlanta Braves have had trouble recapturing the magic from their best start in 19 years but should get a big boost in the opener to a lengthy road trip.
Brian McCann is expected to make his season debut Monday night against the Cincinnati Reds, who have dominated the Braves lately and own the best home record in the majors.
Atlanta (18-12) heads into its 10-game trek after avoiding a fourth straight loss Sunday with a 9-4 win over the New York Mets. Freddie Freeman homered and drove in three runs, and Reed Johnson also had three RBIs as the Braves plated their most runs since a 10-2 win in Colorado on April 23.
Sunday’s victory was only the sixth in 17 games for Atlanta following a 12-1 start, its best since opening 13-1 in 1994. The Braves won their first seven road games this year before dropping seven of the last nine.
McCann will try to help them turn around those road woes in his return from shoulder surgery. The six-time All-Star catcher wrapped up his rehab stint with Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday.
“That’s huge,” Freeman said. “That’s like trading for an All-Star.”
McCann has hit at least 20 homers in five of his last six seasons but batted a career-low .230 in 2012.
“I feel great. I feel like I did before I had my surgery,” he told the team’s website. “I’m ready to go and get the season started.”
One issue with McCann’s return, however, is that he plays the same position as Evan Gattis, the NL rookie of the month for April. Gattis, who had two hits Sunday, is second on the team with seven homers and 18 RBIs. He’s expected to play behind McCann and may see time at first base or in the outfield.
The Braves have been limited to 20 runs while dropping seven of eight to Cincinnati. They’ve lost six straight at Great American Ballpark, where the Reds are 12-4 this season and have a major league-best 2.32 ERA.
Cincinnati (18-14) enters this series after a 5-5 road trip, capped by a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field this weekend. Though the Reds beat the Cubs 7-4 on Sunday, they lost second baseman Brandon Phillips to an undisclosed injury.
“I’m just happy we won the game and won the series,” Phillips said. “I play hurt all the time. Things happen. I’ll be in there tomorrow.”
He surely won’t want to sit out Monday considering he’s batting .370 with six RBIs in his last seven games, and he’s a career .353 hitter (18 for 51) with four homers against Braves scheduled starter Paul Maholm (3-3, 3.08 ERA).
Maholm is 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA in his past five starts against the Reds and 5-1 with a 2.62 ERA in the last 12.
The left-hander has received one run of support over his past three outings and lost them all, but only one of them was bad – eight runs in 3 2-3 innings at Detroit on April 26. Maholm went a season-high eight innings Wednesday against Washington, giving up two runs and three hits in a 2-0 loss.
Like Maholm, Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo (2-3, 3.95) was a hard-luck loser in his most recent outing. He gave up two runs over seven innings in a 2-1 defeat at St. Louis on Tuesday.
Arroyo is 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in three home starts this season, and he’s 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his past five matchups with the Braves.
McCann is 9 for 18 with four home runs all-time against Arroyo and has hit .364 with seven longballs in his last 13 games versus Cincinnati.