Cardinals host Braves, their third straight division-leading opponent
Another series, another opponent sitting at the top of its division.
And Atlanta (45-34) will be a stronger team offensively for the series. Prized rookie outfielder Ronald Acuna will be activated off the 10-day disabled list for Friday night’s game and should slot right into the lineup.
The 21-year-old Acuna, who missed a month with a right knee injury suffered May 27 in Boston, hit .265 with five homers and 13 RBIs in his first 117 big-league at-bats. Acuna recorded a solid .779 OPS, although his 10 walks and 37 strikeouts suggest he needs to gain a bit more control of the strike zone.
Acuna’s return at least tempers worries about the status of center fielder Ender Inciarte, who left Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to Cincinnati when he felt discomfort near his left oblique. Should Inciarte miss any time, Acuna could bat near the top of the lineup.
The Braves missed a chance to extend their division lead during a six-game homestand against two last-place teams. They lost two of three to Baltimore, which has the worst record in baseball, and dropped two of three to Cincinnati, which isn’t playing like a last-place team at the moment with nine wins in 10 games.
“We didn’t play up to our capabilities 100 percent,” Atlanta starting pitcher Sean Newcomb said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You’re not going to every day. I know we’re going to come back out at St. Louis and be pretty strong, pitching and offensively.”
The Braves will have to be strong to deal with Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas (8-2, 2.69 ERA), who has been one of baseball’s best free-agent finds this year. Signed after three successful years in Japan, Mikolas has put together an All-Star resume with St. Louis.
He is coming off a 3-2 win Saturday in Milwaukee, giving up only three hits and two runs to the NL Central leaders in a 6 2/3-inning effort. Mikolas walked two and fanned five, giving him 71 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 97 innings.
Mikolas has faced Atlanta just once in his career, throwing two shutout innings in relief six years ago when he pitched for San Diego.
Julio Teheran (5-5, 4.52) will continue a season-long search for consistency as he starts for the Braves. After tossing six no-hit innings June 17 in a win over San Diego, Teheran was belted around Saturday for seven runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings of a 7-5 loss to Baltimore.
The veteran right-hander has made five career starts against the Cardinals, going 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA. Two players who have hurt him are Matt Carpenter, who is 6-for-12 with two homers, and Marcell Ozuna, who is batting .405 with three homers in 42 career at-bats against Teheran.
St. Louis (42-37) had a four-game winning streak snapped Wednesday in a 5-1 loss to AL Central-leading Cleveland.
Following Milwaukee and Cleveland, Atlanta is the third straight first-place team the Cardinals have faced.