There should be no last minute changes to this week’s scheduled game on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra. The Test between England and Pakistan has finished and there will be no repeat of an Andy Murray final to switch to as he got knocked out of the Cincinnati Masters on Friday.
So Braves-Cubs it is scheduled to be and, subject to a rain-out, that’s what we’ll get to enjoy this evening. Coverage starts at 19.00 with first pitch set for 19.20. The show can be found on DAB radio and digital TV.
Nat Coombs is likely to present the show again alongside Josh Chetwynd, but Jonny Gould will no doubt be listening in and cheering on his Braves. His favourite player, Chipper Jones, is sadly out for the season, but he does have another favourite to cheer for instead: Braves manager Bobby Cox. This is almost certainly going to be the final time Cox and Lou Pineilla manage against each other as both plan to retire at the end of the season.
The series so far
If this game, the third of a three-game series, follows the same pattern as the first two, we can expect the Cubs to take a lead and the Braves to mount an exciting late comeback.
Their comeback succeeded on Friday. The Cubs led 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth, only for star closer Carlos Marmol to let the game slip from his grasp. The Braves had the bases loaded, but were down to their last strike when Rick Ankiel laced a three-run triple to give his team a 5-3 lead that Billy Wagner held on to the bottom of the frame.
Cubs fans must have feared a repeat yesterday as they once again saw an early lead being whittled away. Chicago scored five runs off the Braves’ starter Tommy Hanson and Tom Gorzelanny pitched seven innings of one-run ball to put the Cubs up 5-1 heading into the eighth inning. Atlanta got another bases-loaded hit, this time a three-run double by Brooks Conrad, to make it 5-4. However, Marmol quickly put his Friday failure behind him by shutting down the Braves in the ninth to level the series at 1-1 before today’s rubber game.
Today’s starting pitchers
The two starting pitchers today have had completely different journeys on their way to the Major Leagues.
The Braves selected Mike Minor with the seventh overall pick of the amateur draft last year. He became the fourth 2009 first-round pitcher to make the Majors within less than a year of signing, joining the Reds’ Mike Leake and the Washington Nationals’ Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg. Minor is also the third first-rounder in a row out of Vanderbilt University to make the Majors in short measure, following in the paths of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ third baseman Pedro Alvarez (2nd overall in 2008) and the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher David Price (1st overall in 2007).
Today will be Minor’s third Big League start. The left-hander impressed in his first two appearances, going six innings each time against the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, picking up his first Major League win last time out against the Nats. Minor throws a low nineties fastball, a low eighties changeup and an effective curveball.
In contrast to Minor’s straight path to a Big League mound, the Cubs’ Randy Wells has taken a more unique route.
The Cubs selected Wells as a catcher in the 38th round of the 2002 draft. He converted to being a full-time pitcher in 2004 and worked his way up to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs team, before being claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays in the December 2007 Rule 5 draft. Wells pitched one Major League inning for the Blue Jays before being returned to the Cubs and having a strong debut season (12-10, 3.05 ERA) as a rotation regular at Wrigley last year.
Wells hasn’t quite lived up to that great form in 2010, coming into this game with a 5-11 record and a 4.44 ERA, but he has partly been a victim of the Cubs’ wider struggles (receiving two or less runs in support of his pitching in thirteen of his twenty-five starts). Wells’ days of wearing the tools of ignorance look like being over and his fastball, slider, changeup combo should help him remain as a solid starter for years to come.