Braves vs. Rockies Preview - Baseball, Appalachian Style

Martin Prado, aka Superman, flies home to take on the Rockies.

The Rockies think they're so great. Yeah, big deal. You're from the Rocky Mountains. So what? There are 10 mountains in Alaska alone that are taller than anything in the Rockies. And the names of these "Rockies"? Mount Elbert? Lame! Mount Harvard? It's in Colorado, not Massachusetts! Mount Massive? Geez, I get it--it's a big mountain. Why not just call it "Totally the Biggest Mountain You've Ever Seen"? And while we're at it, what kind of a name for a mountain range is "The Rocky Mountains"? Of course they're rocky--they're mountains! I didn't think they were made out of candy!

When it comes to mountains, give me the Appalachians any day. They may be old mountains, but that just means they've got character. Plus, the mountain names are awesome: Brasstown Bald, Clingman's Dome, Big Frog Mountain, Waterrock Knob, Max Patch, Peaks of Otter--I could go on. When it comes to nomenclature, you can't beat the Appalachians.

Of course, what makes the Appalachians the best is that THEY'RE IN BRAVES COUNTRY. If these Rockies think they're going to be able to just walk into Atlanta and mince around the diamond like they do in Colorado, they've got another thing coming. We do things Appalachian style down here, and they'd better respect that.

Pitching matchups and analysis after the jump.

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:30 P.M. - Jason Hammel (0-0, 5.14) vs. Derek Lowe (2-0, 4.50)

Hammel, a tall (6'6"), 27-year-old righty, was acquired before the 2009 season from the Rays, where he was seen as something of a spare part. He pitched fairly well last year, though, going 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 30 starts. Hammel will be making his second start of the year. In the first, he gave up 4 runs in 7 innings to the Padres in a game the Rockies eventually lost 5-4 in 14 innings. The game was at Coors Field, so 4 runs is not bad, and he really only had one bad inning.

Hammel faced the Braves twice in 2009, getting hit pretty hard both times. On May 19th, he gave up 6 R (3 ER) on 10 H in 6 IP, and took the loss. The other start was the last game before the all-star break, in which he gave up 5 ER on 9 H in only 3 IP. Hammel was saved from the loss in that game when the Braves got Acosta'd and ended up losing 8-7.

Fun Jason Hammel fact: in 2009, he was more effective against cleanup hitters than against #9 hitters:

vs. #4 Hitters: .190 AVG, .250 OBP, .266 SLG (.516 OPS)

vs. #9 Hitters .220 AVG, .299 OBP, .254 SLG (.553 OPS)

As for Lowe, I'm not sure much else needs to be said. He's 2-0 despite getting hit hard in one start and walking 7 in the other. I think he's due for a truly good start, however. (Though I'd take a DLW if need be.)

Saturday, 7:00 P.M. - Ubaldo Jimenez (2-0, 2.25) vs. Kenshin Kawakami (0-1, 3.00)

If you don't know Ubaldo, be sure to tune in Saturday night. The 26-year-old can light up the radar gun--he can hit 100 mph with his fastball, and last year led all big league starters with an average fastball velocity of 96.1 mph. Aside from the velocity, he's just a damn good pitcher. He put up a 5.7 WAR season last year to go along with a 3.47 ERA and matching peripherals. He also gets groundballs on more than half his balls in play.

In 2010, Jimenez has been somewhat hittable, giving up 15 hits in 12 innings. He's only given up 3 runs, however, so his ERA is stellar. If he wants to keep his ERA that low, he'll have to give up fewer hits. In 2009, he faced the Braves once, on July 10th, giving up 2 ER in 6 IP and striking out 8. He picked up a JVL in that game, though, as he was outpitched by none other than Derek Lowe.

Kawakami pitched well in his first start but picked up the loss as he could not quite slay the dragon of Tim Lincecum. He gets another shot at dragon-slaying this time out, and while Jimenez's carcass may not make quite as impressive of a trophy, it may just be easier to obtain. Let's hope the offense helps him out a bit more this time out.

Sunday, 1:30 P.M. - Greg Smith (1-1, 5.25) vs. Jair Jurrjens (0-1, 8.65)

You may be saying to yourself, "Who's Greg Smith?" Well, I'll tell you. He's a 26-year-old lefty. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks, but has been involved in two blockbuster trades already in his young career. He was sent to the A's in the Dan Haren trade. He went just 7-16 despite a respectable 4.16 ERA in 2008. The poor record was due largely to terrible run support, as he received just 2.88 runs of support per start, the lowest in 11 years (according to the Denver Post). After the season he was traded to the Rockies in the Matt Holliday deal. He spent all of 2009 in the minors before making the Rockies' rotation by default when Jeff Francis went down with a shoulder injury toward the end of spring training.

So far in 2010, Smith has pitched well in one start and poorly in the other. He gave up 5 ER in 5 IP to the Brewers, including 2 HR. In his last start, he limited the Mets to 2 ER in 7 IP and struck out 8. Oddly, the bad start was on the road and the good one was at home. Let's hope that trend continues.

For the Braves, the Surgeon is looking to get back on track after botching his last procedure. It will probably take a while for his ERA to recover, but hopefully there won't be any other lasting side-effects of the beatdown he took on Monday.

Stat of the Series

Jason Giambi, the Rockies' DH pinch-hitter/"1st baseman" is off to an amazing start. He has had 14 plate appearances thus far. This is his line:

0 H, 6 BB, .000 AVG, .429 OBP

No, that's not Greg Norton's line from 2009. It's not a misprint either. A .429 OBP with no hits. That takes some talent.

Question of the Series: Can the Rockies hit at lower elevations?

For all of those who remember the late-90's Rockies teams that featured such Coors Field creations as Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, and Dante Bichette (or as I like to call them, Dante and the Bichettes), you may be surprised to learn that these Rockies are solid hitters on the road, too. They're much better at home, of course, but that is to be expected.

Here is a graph that shows how the Rockies' lineup hits at home, relative to NL averages. As usual with these graphs, the further from the center a point is, the better. Also, positive percentages are always good. So the fact that the Rockies are "+7.4%" in strikeout rate means that they strike out 7.4% less than the league average when at home. [The four stats are batting average (AVG); Isolated Power (ISO), which is just slugging percentage minus batting average; walk rate (BB%), which is the percentage of plate appearances that end in walks; and strikeout rate (K%), which is the percentage of at-bats that end in strikeouts.]

Col-home_medium

As you can see, the Rockies are pretty awesome at hitting when at home. They strike out less than average and hit better than average. More importantly, they walk a ton and hit for a huge amount of power. Let's see how they do on the road:

Col-away_medium

That's obviously not as good. On the road, their batting average is slightly subpar, and they strike out a ton. They do, however, still hit for above-average power and walk a good bit. That adds up to a pretty good offensive team. They aren't just Bichettes. They can hurt you.

Finally, I just wanted to point out that the Rockies have done a fantastic job of developing young players. Did you know that on some days they field an entirely-homegrown lineup? In fact, of their regulars and semi-regulars, only Carlos Gonzalez (who has a hamstring issue and almost certainly won't play in this series) and Miguel Olivo (who splits time with Ianetta at catcher) are not homegrown. For all of us who lived through the comings and goings of the Baby Braves, that has to be pretty impressive. Here's what such a lineup might look like:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Seth Smith, LF
  3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  4. Todd Helton, 1B
  5. Brad Hawpe, DH
  6. Chris Iannetta, C
  7. Ian Stewart, 3B
  8. Ryan Spilborghs, RF
  9. Clint Barmes, 2B
The Rockies may play in a dumb mountain range, but you've got to respect their player development.
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