It was pretty obvious: The Dodgers and Braves didn't play very well in April and early May. The Braves had their 9-game losing streak and the Dodgers just couldn't put it together. Runners were being left on base, bone-head plays were being made in the field and the fans' confidence was at near an all time low for April. Surely these struggles wouldn't continue for two quality teams like the Braves and Dodgers, right?
Now it's June 2nd and the Braves and Dodgers are the two hottest teams in the league. We all know about the Braves, but here's some info on the Dodgers:
31-22, 2nd in NL West; won 4 straight.
Record in past 10 games: 6-4
Don't let him get in a groove on the mound: Clayton Kershaw
Get him a haircut: Manny Ramirez
They're a very talented club with a nice mixture of both young and veteran players. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are two of the best young outfielders in baseball. James Loney, despite not having typical first baseman power, is a solid young player. Russell Martin, despite never living up to his great rookie season a few years ago, is still one of the better young catchers around. As for the vets, Casey Blake has been great for the Dodgers at 3B and Manny Ramirez is still loafing around in LF at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers are 5th in the NL in runs scored (Braves - 4th), 2nd in team BA (Braves - 11th), 6th in team OBP (Braves - 1st) and run the bases well as they're 6th in stolen bases (Braves - 13th).
Where the Dodgers do struggle offensively is in the power department. They're 10th in HRs and 7th in doubles. This isn't to say they aren't dangerous though.
Despite all their struggles in April, their rotation and bullpen has bounced back to the middle of the pack in the NL. They're staff is led by young lefty Clayton Kershaw and righty Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda is a solid #3 starter and 24-year old John Ely has come out of nowhere and filled in nicely in their rotation. It's been a bit of a revolving door at the 5th spot, with a combination of Vicente Padilla, Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Monasterios all making at least 2 starts this season. The Dodgers starting rotation is 10th in the NL in team ERA (Braves - 8th), 5th in innings pitched (Braves - 6th), 6th in HR allowed (Braves - 8th), 8th in BAA (Braves - 5th) and 9th in WHIP (Braves - 6th). The rotation for the Dodgers has improved though, especially with the departure of Russ and Ramon Ortiz.
The bullpen is anchored by closer Jonathan Broxton, who can be down-right filthy when he's on his game. He's joined by LOOGY Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso, Jeff Weaver and Ronald Belisario. They've received mixed performances from these guys and they're currently 9th in bullpen ERA. They're 5th in BAA and 6th in WHIP, so not too many base runners have reached against the Dodgers 'pen. Improvements were definitely made in the month of May and a lot of that had to do with the return of Kuo and Belisario. This isn't to say the game is over once it gets to the later innings. As long as the Braves continue their patience and clutch hitting at the plate, they should be able to scratch across a few runs in the upcoming 4-game series.
A crazy (and a bit odd) stat, pitching match-ups and more after the jump:
Stat of the Series:
Record in April: Braves 9-14, Dodgers 9-14
Record in May: Braves 20-8, Dodgers 20-8
Record in June: Braves 2-0, Dodgers 2-0
Kris Medlen vs. Hiroki Kuroda, Thursday - 10:10EST
Kuroda has been very solid for the Dodgers this year. He comes in with a 5-3 record and a 3.55ERA (compared to a 3.72 FIP). He's been pretty hittable this year with a .282 BAA, but he makes up for it with excellent control. His K/BB ratio is an impressive 45-to-16, so the Braves will have to keep their patient approach at the plate if they want to have lots of base runners.
Kenshin Kawakami vs. Clayton Kershaw, Friday - 10:10EST
Kershaw is the young, left-handed fireballer for the Dodgers and he's been impressive this year. He comes in with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of 2.95 (3.38 FIP). Kershaw is a strikeout pitchers and he's currently striking out more than 10 hitters per 9 innings. CK can and will walk opposing hitters, and he's walking more than 5 every 9 innings. I'm actually feeling good about the Braves' chances against Kershaw. He's one of the better pitchers in the league, but he throws a ton of pitches. The Braves lead in walks and OBP and this should give us a huge advantage against Kershaw.
Tommy Hanson vs. Chad Billingsley, Saturday - 10:10EST
Billingsley has been very good for the Dodgers in 2010. He's currently 6-2 with an ERA of 3.74 (3.78 FIP). His strikeout and walk numbers are impressive as well. He's striking out more than 8 hitters per 9 innings while only walking 3 per 9.
Tim Hudson vs. John Ely, Sunday - 4:10EST
Who in the world in John Ely you ask? I asked myself the same thing and saw he's been incredible for the Dodgers this year. His numbers are a bit odd though. Actually, really odd. He comes in with a 3-2 record and an ERA of 2.54 and FIP of 2.08, but his xFIP is 3.47. He's averaged about 7 strikeouts per 9 innings and only a walk and a half in the same amount of time. Ely hasn't given up a HR this season, but his GB% is only 42%. This probably won't continue. Regardless of the odd stats, Ely has been great for the Dodgers this year. Let's all hope his fortunes change against the Bravos.
If you check out the start times, you'll notice three of the games won't start until after 10 on the east coast. Get some beer/coffee/beer/soda/beer and some popcorn and stay up to watch! Work is over-rated anyways.
Questions of the Series:
1. Is the winner of this series the best team in the NL? My money says yes. B oth teams are really close in stats and both were on fire in May. And if they split the series 2-2, well, I guess we're even.
2. How will the Braves handle the west coast? They went 3-3 against SF and SD earlier this year. We're a much better now.
3. Is "Heyward Goes to Hollywood" the stupidest promo FSS has ever had for the Braves? Yes.
I'm thinking they'll split the series. Both teams are really good and they're both doing all the little things right.
*Author's side note: I really hate Bud Selig. And if you don't, there's something wrong with you. He refuses to do anything gutsy and has basically ruined baseball. Thanks a lot, Bud. Just reverse the call. Joyce said he would be OK with it and Galarraga deserved to have the perfect game.