Pirates at Braves Series Preview: Ahoy (Again), Mateys!

That certainly didn't take long. The Braves (25-22, 2nd in NL East) and Pirates (20-28, 4th in NL Laughingstock Central) meet for the 2nd time in a week when Pittsburgh makes the trip down to Atlanta for a 3-game series. The Bucs come into Atlanta struggling, losing 3 out of 4 against Cincinnati and 2 out of 3 against the Braves. This certainly doesn't mean the Braves can take them lightly. We've all seen our beloved Bravos struggle against the cellar dwellers the past few seasons and we don't want that trend to continue.

Not much has changed with the Pirates since last weekend's series. They're still near the bottom of the NL in runs scored (15th), home runs (14th), batting average (15th) and strikeouts (11th). Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones combine for a solid 3-4 punch in the middle of the lineup, but they're awful everywhere else. The Braves pitchers should have no problem keeping the Bucs lineup under control.

The pitching is just as bad for the Pirates. They're 15th in the NL with a team ERA of 5.38 (compared to the Braves ERA of 3.93.) The Pirates pitchers (say that 5 times fast!) give up the longball quite often, giving up 56 so far in 2010 which is good for 15th in the NL. The Pirates problem? They have true ace. To be honest, they don't even have a true #2 starter. They have a collection of 3, 4 and 5 starters and the numbers reflect this.

Surely something has to be good for the Bucs, right? Wrong. The bullpen has failed miserably as well for the Pirates in 2010. They're 13th in bullpen ERA and have already pitched a ridiculous 176.1 innings, which is the most in the NL. Evan Meek, Javier Lopez and D.J. Carrasco have all been solid out of the 'pen, but closer Octavio Dotel has an ERA around 6. Combine this with bad-to-awful performances from Jack Tashner, Joel Hanrahan and Brendan Donnelly and you have a bullpen that has really struggled to get guys out. Let's hope the Braves can continue this trend during the weekend.

Pitching matchups and more after the jump.

Pitching Matchups:

Derek Lowe vs. Zach Duke, 7:35EST

Lowe's Last Start: It was a bit of an odd game for the $60M "ace" in his last start. In true Derek Lowe fashion, he pitched decently, but still came away with the win. He went 5 sloppy innings against the Bucs and gave up 5 hits and walked 4, but held them to only 2 runs.

Duke's Last Start: Duke basically dominated the Braves, but he was facing a C-squad lineup. He threw 7 innings and only allowed 1 run, but went against a Braves lineup without Heyward, McCann and Hinske.

Kris Medlen vs. Brian Burres, 7:10EST

Medlen's Last Start: Midlan  Marvin  Meddin  Midlen Medlen pitched well in Pittsburgh last weekend, but the offense failed him and he took a tough 3-2 loss. He went 5.2 innings and allowed only 2 earned runs.

Burres' Last Start: Burres was horrible in his last start against the Reds. He only retired 11 batters and gave up 5 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks.

Kenshin Kawakami vs. Paul Maholm, 1:35EST

Kawakami's Last Start: KK pitched well (once again) in his last start against Florida, but took his 7th loss in a game the Braves lost 6-4. He went 6 strong innings and only allowed 3 runs, but his offense and bullpen failed him again.

Maholm's Last Start: Maholm was very impressive in his last start against the Reds. He threw 7 shutout innings and only allowed 5 hits and 2 walks.

Questions of the Series:

1. Will the Braves be able to hit lefty pitchers? Duke, Burres and Maholm are all lefties and we've all seen how inconsistent the Braves hitters have been against southpaws this year.

2.. How will the Braves' pitching do without Hanson or Hudson? This is the first series all year that won't have either Tommy or Timmy pitching. Will Lowe, Meds and KK be able to handle it?

3. Will the Braves be able to take some momentum into June? A sweep would be huge for the Braves. They've been awful in June the past half-decade. Perhaps a sweep to conclude a fantastic month of May would change this.


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