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Braves face tough AL East in Interleague Play

ATLANTA -- The Braves will play a pair of series against the Yankees and be challenged by each of the other members of the mighty American League East in Interleague Play this year.

Atlanta will open the Interleague portion of its schedule on Friday, when it begins a three-game series against the Rays in St. Petersburg. The Blue Jays (June 8-10), Yankees (June 11-13) and surprising Orioles (June 15-17) will visit Turner Field next month.

The challenging grind against AL opponents will conclude with a six-game road trip that will pit the Braves against the Yankees (June 18-20) and Red Sox (June 22-24).

Back when the Braves were playing AL East opponents on an annual basis during the early years of Interleague Play, there was reason to look forward to the chance to play the Rays. Atlanta won 11 of its first 15 matchups against Tampa Bay.

Now a perennial playoff contender, the Rays possess a pitching staff that could frustrate Atlanta's potent offense this weekend. James Shields and David Price are both scheduled to face the Braves at Tropicana Field.

With half of this year's 18 Interleague games scheduled to be played on the road, Chipper Jones should get plenty of opportunities to serve as a designated hitter. This will allow the Braves to keep his bat in the lineup and rest his cranky left knee.

The Blue Jays' visit to Atlanta comes 20 years after they beat the Braves in the 1992 World Series. Along with Jose Bautista, this year's Toronto club also features a pair of former Braves -- Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar.

Last year: After losing four of their first five Interleague games last year, the Braves won nine of their last 10. This surge allowed them to take a five-game NL Wild Card lead into the All-Star break.

Players to watch
Chipper Jones, 3B (.282, 41 HRs, .506 SLG, 203 games): The veteran homered in his first Interleague game against Orioles reliever Armando Benitez on June 13, 1997.
Brian McCann, C (.316, 17 HRs, .545 SLG, 87 games): The catcher batted .388 (19-for-49) with five home runs in Interleague Play last year.
Dan Uggla, 3B (.238, 19 HRs, .453 SLG, 92 games): Grip and rip approach has provided occasional power and little consistency vs. the AL.
Tim Hudson, RHP (4-15, 6.15 ERA, 20 games): He's actually 3-2 with a 4.55 ERA in his past five starts vs. AL clubs.

All-time: The Braves have gone 129-112 in Interleague Play. They have won 19 of 30 games against AL opponents over the past two seasons.

Braves Interleague opponents:

• @ Rays, May 18-20: Key Rays Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Jeff Nieman are all on the disabled list, but the Rays are still a strong club. The Braves are 9-3 all-time at Tropicana Field.

• vs. Blue Jays, June 8-10: The Blue Jays will return to Atlanta for a rematch of the 1992 World Series, won by Toronto. The teams have met 27 times since that October, with the Braves trailing, 13-14, in the series.

• vs. Yankees, June 11-13: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia will lead the Yankees into Atlanta for a three-game series. The two teams meet again in New York the following week.

• vs. Orioles, June 15-17: The Orioles, led by manager Buck Showalter and catcher Matt Wieters, arrive for a three-game series at Turner Field. The Braves lead the all-time series, 19-14, but this year's Orioles are off to a much better start than in recent years.

• @ Yankees, June 18-20: The Braves will make their first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. They fared well in the old ballpark during Interleague Play, going 8-6 in The House That Ruth Built.

• @ Red Sox, June 22-24: The Braves return to their original home, a city where they have found success during Interleague Play. The Braves are 15-9 at Fenway Park.

Atlanta Braves, Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla