Coming off their first series loss in 14 tries, the Braves come home for a nine game homestand, starting with a three-game set against the Detroit Tigers this weekend. The Braves took a forgettable three-game road trip up to Chicago, and hopefully none of the poor play from that trip carries over to this homestand. As mvhsbball mentions, the Braves have played the fewest amount of home games of any team in baseball. This nine game stand should even that number out a bit, and if the Braves continue to play great baseball at home, they should see their division lead extend.
Kris Medlen opens up the series against Andrew Oliver, who is making his major league debut. Oliver is a 6"3 lefty with a mid 90's fastball and a good changeup. The Braves have struggled against left-handed pitchers (22n in OPS, .684), but the fact that he relies on a changeup as an out pitch may help the Braves' lefties. As Peter Hjort of the Capitol Avenue Club points out, "Kris Medlen has thrown just as many MLB innings as he did last year, but faced 25 fewer batters and thrown 98 fewer pitches." He's getting better, and there is little reason to believe that won't continue. This should be a big start for Kris, as this will be his last outing before the the Braves decide who is removed from the rotation for Jair Jurrjens.
Saturay 4:10 EST: Kenshin Kawakam (0-9, 4.78 ERA, 4.53 xFIP) vs. Max Scherzer (4-6, 5.67 ERA, 4.19 xFIP)
Once again Kenshin is going for his first win, and if he is to get it as a starter this may be his last opportunity. As the decision to remove Kenshin or Medlen nears, the performance of Kawakami has slipped. In his past two outings, teams have scored 10 runs while Kenshin has been on the mound, although only six were earned. In contrast, since Scherzer was recalled in late May, he has pitched to a 3.49 ERA in 31 innings, including three straight quality starts. In Max's first start after he rejoined the rotation he struck out 14 in just 5.2 innings. He has tremendous potential an may be beginning to realize it.
This is the marquee pitching matchup of the series as two of the more impressive right arms in baseball square off on Sunday afternoon. Hanson is coming off a dreadful start against the Chicago White Sox in which he allowed 9 earned runs, 13 hits, 1 walk, and struck out none in 3.2 innings. Verlander is also coming off an abysmal effort. Against the New York Mets he threw just 2 innings and allowed 5 runs in a losing effort. Besides both coming off of very bad starts, the similarities between the two this year have been eerie. Here are some of their stats:
Hanson: 8.97 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9, .334 BABIP, 37.8 GB%, 4.17 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 86 K, 29 BB
Verlander: 8.16 K/9, 3.19 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, .276 BABIP, 42.7 GB%, 3.94 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 87 K, 34 BB
I'm not sure how often two starters with such similar statistics face each other this late in the season, but my guess is that it is pretty rare.
Currently, the Tigers rank 5th in wOBA (.339), 6th in OBP (.343), 5th in WAR (12.6), 8th in SLG (.424), 1st in BB/K (0.66)
Their position players can clearly hit, but they have had trouble getting runs across the plate. Despite ranking in the top third in all of these important offensive statistics, they rank 18th in runs scored in the majors and 9th in the AL. They have some very respectable hitters in Miguel Cabrera, who is having an MVP-type season, Magglio Ordonez, and Johnny Damon. Cabrera and Ordonez both have wOBA's over .400, as does rookie Brennan Boesch who currently leads the team with a .441 mark.
Many consider Boesch the front-runner for Rookie of the Year award in the AL if he continues his current pace. The problem is that he likely won't. His 20% K rate and BABIP of .384 point to a regression. Add that to the fact that his career minor league OPS was .753 and you get a player that is clearly playing over his head.
The Tigers Bullpen:
Both Joel Zumaya and Jose Valverde have had all-star caliber seasons. Zumaya and Valverde currently have ERA's of 1.98 and 0.57 respectively. They strike out a bit below a batter per inning and have combined for 18 saves with just 2 blown this year. Eddie Bonine and Phil Coke have been effective middle relievers, both posting ERA's at-or-below 3.00, but neither have overly impressive stuff. Bonine has a poor K/BB ratio of 18/12 and Coke has an absurdly low 2.5% HR/FB rate.
Number of the series: 60
The Braves are still leading the NL in run differential at +60. As they head home and attempt to better their already impressive home record of 24-7, it will be important to increase this differential as well as their lead over both the Mets and Phillies. The Phillies are just 2.5 games back and have won 3 straight while the Braves have lost their past 3. This isn't a trend that can continue if they want to hold on to first place, obviously. With nine games at home against the Tigers, Nationals, and Marlins, a record of 6-3 is attainable.
The consecutive series streak has come to a close, but a new one has started. While no where near as impressive, since announcing he was leaning towards retirement Chipper Jones has hit in 8 consecutive games. He is batting .380 with 3 walks, 3 extra base hits, and 2 steals over that time span. Chipper's average is now at .250 and is moving in the right direction for the first time this year. Chipper staying hot and the rest of the offense coming back to life will be vital over the next few games as we only have the clear pitching advantage in tonight's contest.