The Tennessee Smokies (32-32) begin their final homestand of the first half as they get set to take on the Mississippi Braves (35-30) in Game 1 of a five-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 PM from Smokies Park.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Smokies want to remain in second place in the North Division and enter tonight’s action only a half game ahead of Chattanooga. For the Braves, they have everything to play for as they trail the first-place Mobile BayBears by a half game in the South Division. With only five games left in the first half, the Braves need to have a productive series and hope for help from the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, who host Mobile.
Mississippi: Cody Martin (3-3, 2.97 ERA): After starting the season out of the bullpen, Martin will make his 11th start of the season for the Braves. Martin has been sharp this season despite not lasting long in games. He hasn’t pitched more than six innings in a game so far this season. In the Smokies series at Trustmark Park at the beginning of May, Martin pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen on May 4, his last appearance in relief. In his last start on June 7 against Pensacola, Martin earned the victory allowing one run on seven hits in five innings.
Tennessee: Alberto Cabrera (5-3, 4.08 ERA): After originally being slated to start the final game in Mobile, Cabrera will start the series opener against the Braves. Cabrera has not been as effective at home this season going 1-3 with a 6.61 ERA in six starts. He did pitch well in his only start against Mississippi on May 3 tossing six scoreless innings allowing just two hits. In his last start, Cabrera struggled against the Jackson Generals on June 6 surrendering five runs on ten hits in five innings and took the loss. Cabrera’s 68 strikeouts this season are good for fourth in the Southern League.
LAST TIME OUT: The Smokies had a series of heartbreak in Mobile against the BayBears. Tennessee dropped four of five in the series including two walk-off losses in extra innings and a one-run loss where the game ended with the tying run being thrown out at home plate. Overall, the Smokies have dropped six of their last seven.
Mississippi ended up taking three out of five games at home against Pensacola including a walk-off win on June 10. However, the loss in their series finale dropped them out of first place and the Braves now do not control their own destiny for first place in the South Division.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Jose Martinez: Martinez ranks second in the Southern League with a .311 batting average trailing only Julio Morban of Jackson. Martinez has multiple hits in his last two games and has hit safely in eight of his last nine.
Kyle Russell: Russell was a thorn in the side of Tennessee in their previous series in Pearl. He was a series-best 7-for-18 (.389) and drove in two runs. The Smokies might be catching Russell at the right time though as he is in the midst of a 2-for-13 skid.
Jonathan Mota: Mota is on a tear right now and is riding a season-high seven-game hitting streak. In his last five games, Mota is 9-for-20 with two home runs.
Tony Zych: While the bullpen has had their problems as of late, Tony Zych has excelled for the Smokies. Zych has had six straight scoreless appearances with four of the six being over an inning. His ERA is now down to 3.33, almost a full run lower then when this scoreless streak began.
KEY TO THE GAME: The theme for Alberto Cabrera so far this season has been if he can survive the first couple innings, he will have a quality start. Cabrera has posted a 4.50 ERA in the first inning and a 6.00 ERA in the second inning in his 12 starts this season. If he is able to avoid a rocky start against Mississippi, the Smokies have a strong chance at getting back over .500.
TUNE IN: The broadcast will be available on our flagship station, The Sports Animal WNML AM 990 and on FM 99.1 in Knoxville beginning at 7:00 ET with the Pilot & Oscar Mayer Pregame Show. You can also listen to the broadcast in its entirety on smokiesbaseball.com as well as the Smokies mobile app.