The upcoming series is a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. The first place Atlanta Braves, winners of 8 our of their last 10, will face off in a 4 game set against the N.L West cellar dweller Arizona Diamondbacks, who have won just 2 of their past 10.
The teams faced off for a 3-game set at Turner Field in mid-May as the Braves took 2-of -3 from the Diamondbacks. Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Troy Glaus, and Eric Hinske all went deep once while Martin Prado was able to put 2 into the seats against the Diamondbacks staff. The final 2 games were blowouts as the Diamondbacks won the Saturday match-up 11-1 and the Braves won the Sunday game 13-1. You may recall the Braves coming back in the bottom of the ninth in the series opener as Martin Prado came through with a bases loaded single to push the tying and winning runs across against Chad Qualls.
The Diamondbacks currently rank last in the majors with a 5.50 ERA. Their bullpen is still their biggest weakness as they have a dead last ranking in reliever’s ERA at 7.29. Arizona has allowed 122 earned runs in 150.2 innings. In contrast, the Braves have allowed 62 earned runs in 168 innings. Obviously, getting to the D’Back’s bullpen as early as possible will be key for the Braves over the next 4 games.
Lineup wise, former Braves Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche lead the D’Backs in both OPS and wOBA. Stephen Drew, Chris Young, and Mark Reynolds have all been productive this season offensively, but Reynolds .325 OBP leaves much to be desired for, despite his impressive .241 ISO and 12 home runs.
Chipper Jones is still suffering from an injured right ring finger. He received a cortisone shot and hopes to return on Tuesday. We'll see how that goes. Martin Prado was suffering from a sore left hand but was inserted into the Braves series finale against the Dodgers yesterday afternoon. He responded well by adding three more hits to his league leading total, including his 5th home run of the season. Apparently, Jason Heyward is also suffering from an injury in his hand. For Jason, it is a sore left thumb that Terry Pendleton claims is bothering him. He went just 2-for-17 against the Dodgers over four games while batting third. The Braves have relied on the production from the top of the order and in the first inning since they turned their season around. Needless to say, these three remaining healthy and producing is of the utmost importance. Omar Infante has produced in Chipper's absence, but his performance will only be sustainable for a short period of time.
Pitching match-ups after the jump...
Derek Lowe has allowed just 2 earned runs and 12 baserunners in his past 15 innings. During that time, he has seen his ERA drop from 5.30 to a more respectable 4.44. He’s pitched 7 and 8 innings respectively in his past 2 starts while allowing just 1 run in each outing.
Dan Haren has been a product of very bad luck as his 5.53 K/BB ratio ranks 2nd in the majors amongst qualifying starters behind only Roy Halladay. Haren is coming off of his best start of the season, just as Lowe is, as he went 8 innings and struck out 7 while walking none and allowing no earned runs against the Dodgers last Tuesday night.
Since joining the starting rotation, Kris Medlen has pitched to a 3.03 ERA over 29.2 innings with 19 strikeouts and 6 walks. His K/9 ratio of 5.76 as a starter ranks second amongst the Braves behind only Tommy Hanson. Medlen has been great as a starter, and in my opinion should stay in the rotation whenever Jair comes back. I stated that I didn't think much was lost from Jair to Medlen in terms of overall production and my stance on that has actually changed. I truly believe Medlen is a better starter than Jair at this point, and I am not basing that off of Jurrjen's numbers in 2010.
Jackson has had a rough season, but he threw 9 shutout innings against the Dodgers and has lowered his ERA from 6.28 to 5.33 in his past 2 starts. Jackson's outing was very impressive and hopefully the Braves can stop him from getting on a roll. His walk rate is up this year compared to last, so if the Braves can maintain their patient approach (Lead MLB in walks with 261), they should be able to get to Jackson.
Kenshin's record is deceiving as he hasn’t actually been as terrible as an 0-8 record would suggest. Over his past four starts he has a 3.60 ERA with 13 strikeouts and 6 walks. Bobby stated that he is happy with his performance as of late and I am as well. He did not get it going last year until interleague play began so it is not surprising that he has improved as of late.
While Jackson and Haren have been hurt by bad luck, Kennedy has been blessed with a great deal of it. His 4.91 FIP suggests that his 3.46 ERA is unsustainable if he does not pitch better for the remainder of the season. Kennedy pitched a decent game against the Braves earlier this year, allowing 3 runs in 6.1 innings with 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.
Thursday, 3:40: Tommy Hanson (3.71 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 3.19 BABIP) vs. Dontrelle Willis (4.38 ERA, 4.62 FIP, .327 BABIP)
Hanson has been fortunate to keep his run totals down as of late, but we haven’t seen the Tommy Hanson we are accustomed to seeing since his Milwaukee start on May 10th. Tommy battled through his start against the Dodgers on Saturday and earned the win, but he didn’t pitch very well throughout the game. In his start against the Diamondbacks earlier this year he struck out 10 but allowed 5 runs.
The newly acquired Dontrelle Willis had a strong outing in his first appearance as a Diamondback. He didn’t allow a run over 6 innings, despite allowing 9 baserunners with just 3 strikeouts. I’m going to make a pre-series prediction and say Troy Glaus takes him deep. With his lack of control (33 walks in 49.1 innings), Willis seems like a great match-up for the Braves’ hot-hitting first basemen.
The Braves haven’t lost a series since they lost two of three to the Phillies in a series that started on May 7. If Atlanta can tie or win this series, they will have gone more than a month without losing one, an impressive number to say the least.