The Atlanta Braves seem happy right now (Photo: Bazemore, AP)

Hey, didn’t we just play these guys?

Cincinnati returns home to Great American Ballpark tonight after a fairly successful road trip. They’ll begin a seven-game homestand against the visiting Atlanta Braves. Just last week, the Reds and Braves split a short two-game series in Hot-lanta. Since that time, Atlanta (26-16, $82.4 million payroll) has increased their lead in the National League East to a healthy one and a half games over Washington. Meanwhile, Cincinnati (21-19, 2nd place) has somehow cut their deficit in the NL Central to a miniscule half-game.

It’s a four-game series, beginning tonight with a nationally-televised ESPN game (7:00 pm), with 7:10 pm games following on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Since we just looked at the Braves a week ago, I won’t rehash much of that. There are a few items of note, however.

Mon: Mike Leake (0-5, 6.21 ERA) vs. Mike Minor (2-3, 7.09 ERA)
Tue: Mat Latos (2-2, 4.63) vs. Brandon Beachy (5-1, 1.33)
Wed: Bronson Arroyo (2-2, 3.46) vs. Tommy Hanson (5-3, 3.31)
Thur: Homer Bailey (2-3, 4.34) vs. Randall Delgado (2-4, 4.26)

Tonight’s matchup features two former first-round draft picks who have struggled mightily in 2012. Mike Minor is a 24-year-old lefty who has had serious problems this year. He’s given up more HR than he did in almost twice as many starts last year, and that 7.09 ERA is ugly. It appears to me, however, that Minor has been more than a bit unlucky. His BABIP is astronomically high, and his K/BB ratios aren’t terrible.

Minor is due to regress to the mean soon. Let’s hope he doesn’t start tonight.

Brandon Beachy is one of the best stories in baseball:

Beachy played mostly third base and first base at Indiana Wesleyan and pitched a little, but went undrafted. A Braves area scout named Gene Kerns saw Beachy one July evening pitching in relief in the Virginia Valley League, a college summer league. He saw a kid with good size throwing in the low 90s.

After the game, he asked Beachy if he’d been drafted. (He wouldn’t be allowed to talk to him if he had.) When Beachy said no, Kerns, as he relayed in a 2011 interview, then asked the obvious question: “Do you have an interest in professional baseball?”

The rest, as they say, is history. Beachy is now 25 and terrorizing the National League. That 1.33 ERA is ridiculous, but even if he’s been lucky, his FIP of 2.54 suggests he’s pretty darn good. He made his only career start against Cincinnati last July, going six innings and surrendering just one earned run in a game the Reds won 4-3.

The kid is only 25, and he’s likely to get better. Why can’t the Reds find guys like this (and how many more guys are like this, but never get noticed)?

Tommy Hanson is a big 25 year-old right-hander out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 2009, Hanson had a brilliant rookie campaign, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA and finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting. He was a 4.3 WAR player the following year, and after a bit of a dip in 2011 (when his season was cut short with shoulder problems), Hanson is pitching pretty well again this season.

While Hanson is one of the better young pitchers in baseball, he has struggled against the Reds in his career. Over four starts, Hanson is just 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA.

Randall Delgado is a 22 year-old right-hander from Panama. Delgado faced the Reds last week, taking the loss despite not giving up a single earned run in 6.2 innings of work. In his most recent start, Delgado gave up four runs in four innings in a loss to Tampa Bay.

1. Michael Bourn (L) – CF
2. Martin Prado (R) – LF
3. Freddie Freeman (L) – 1B
4. Dan Uggla (R) – 2B
5. Brian McCann (L) – C
6. Chipper Jones (S) – 3B
7. Jason Heyward (L) – RF
8. Tyler Pastornicky (R) – SS

You can look at last week’s preview to see an assessment of the Atlanta offense. Not much has changed. They continue to mash the baseball as well as any team in the league, and I love me some Jason Heyward.

The more I look at this Braves team, the more I am impressed. The pitching is young (other than Tim Hudson) and it is good, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Their manager is horrific, but that’s one of the few negatives about this club. If they can stay healthy, the Braves may be the best team in the National League. That’s a big “if” though.

My favorite thing about the Braves, however, is that they still employ our old friend David Ross, and that he’s just about as good a backup catcher as you’ll find in the league.

Go Redlegs. A win in this series would be significant, indeed.