Braves vs. Dodgers Series Preview: Wrap-Around!

Yes, that's right, folks! It's time for your favorite kind of series-- a Wrap-Around! Because in a Wrap-Around series, the party doesn't stop just because the weekend is over. It keeps going right on through Monday night, despite the fact that there's no reason for wrapping around, since Monday isn't even a holiday.

The Braves welcome the Dodgers into town for the epic 4-day event. The Dodgers have got to be feeling pretty low right now after blowing a 9-2 8th inning lead against the Phillies last night. Actually, come to think of it, the Braves probably don't feel any better about that result. Hopefully the Dodgers' bullpen can fail just as spectacularly during this series. It is a decent bullpen, though; it ranks 6th in the NL in FIP (3.87) and 9th in ERA (4.14). The Dodgers' relievers don't strike out many, though-- only 7.67 K/9 (13th in the NL).

The Dodgers are mediocre on the hitting side. They rank 9th in the NL in runs per game (4.46), 8th in OBP (.330), and only 13th in SLG (.390). They're also 12th in the NL in wOBA (.316). Their strength is an ability to draw walks (their 8.9% walk rate is 4th in the NL). Still, they rate worse than the Braves in all of those categories. Even accounting for injuries, the Braves still seem to have a better offense. (The Dodgers are missing Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, and Manny Ramirez, so they aren't exactly at full strength, either.)

We get a bit lucky in this series in that we miss Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Of course, the rest of the Dodgers' rotation is not exactly chopped liver. The injury-ravaged Braves lineup will have its work cut out for it.

Pitching matchups and Hot/Not analysis after the jump...

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:30 PM ET
Tim Hudson (6.81 IP/S, 2.24 ERA, 65.3% GB%) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (6.06 IP/S , 3.65 ERA, 3.44 FIP)

After several starts in which Hudson got "only" around 50% ground balls, Hudson returned to being The Ground Ball Machine in his last start. He got 16/19 ground balls (an astounding 84%), and unsurprisingly, it was his best start of the year--8 shutout innings with 6 strikeouts to only 1 walk. He's been amazing all year; he's given up 1 run or less in nearly half of his starts (11 out of 23), including his last 4.

Kuroda is having another very good season for the Dodgers. Actually, this has probably been the best of his 3 seasons in L.A.; his K/9 of 7.29 is a career high, as is his GB% (54.2%), though his walk rate is also up slightly (a still-excellent 2.36 BB/9). Yeah, his win-loss record is only 8-10, but that means absolutely nothing*. He's a damn good pitcher.

* By the way, you may have noticed that I am no longer giving a pitcher's record in his stat line; it just seems so pointless. Innings pitched per start is far more meaningful, so I will use that instead.

Saturday, 7:00 PM ET
Derek Lowe (5.88 IP/S, 4.40 ERA, 4.23 FIP) vs. Ted Lilly (6.50 IP/S, 3.60 ERA, 4.48 FIP)

Lowe has put up two straight pretty good starts (3 runs in 11.1 IP, 64% GB%), but he still has not gone more than 6 innings since July 5th. If he can keep getting those ground balls, he's still useful, but I'd certainly like to see him put in a few more innings.

Lilly came over to the Dodgers in a deadline day deal (along with Ryan Theriot for Blake DeWitt). He's had one excellent start and one decent start since then: 1 run in 7 innings against the Padres, then 3 runs in 6 innings against the Nationals. For the season, Lilly has somewhat amazingly given up only 30.8% ground balls (the second-worst rate in the majors). He also has by far the highest infield fly-ball rate in the majors: a whopping 20.6%*. In other words, expect to be frustrated by our hitters popping the ball up constantly.

* As a side note, Lowe's IFFB rate of only 2.9% is second-worst in the majors. Quite a contrast of styles in this game.

Sunday, 1:30 PM ET
Mike Minor (5.90 IP/S, 3.44 ERA, 3.15 FIP)* vs. Vicente Padilla (6.19 IP/S, 3.32 ERA, 4.06 FIP)
* These are Minor's 2010 combined minor-league numbers.

Minor was decent in his first start in the big leagues, giving up 3 earned runs in 6 innings. His stuff certainly looked like it would play at this level, though his command was a bit off all night. Still, his control was good and if he had not been victimized by some bloop hits, he might've ended with a better line.

Padilla has been very lucky this year; the difference between his ERA and FIP is quite large, and it is fueled by an abnormal .244 BABIP (career: .299). Unlike with Tim Hudson and his freaky ground ball abilities, there is no reason to think that Padilla can maintain that kind of BABIP. Let's hope the regression hits him full bore on Sunday. In addition to his good luck, Padilla has also pitched well; his 8.0 K/9 is a career high, and his 2.18 BB/9 is a career low. He's still susceptible to the home run, though (1.25 HR/9).

Monday, 7:00 PM ET
Jair Jurrjens (5.82 IP/S, 4.16 ERA, 4.02 FIP) vs. Chad Billingsley (6.06 IP/S, 3.78 ERA, 3.41 FIP)

JJ continues to excel since his return from the DL. In his last start, he gave up just 1 earned run in 7.1 innings against the Astros. Even better, he only walked one man, and that was intentional (though perhaps that's not all that impressive given the opponent). He has a 3.14 ERA since returning to the rotation, which is much more like what we've come to expect from him than what he did before his injury.

Billingsley is yet another Dodger starter with good numbers. After striking out over a batter an inning in 2008, his strikeout rate has steadily dropped; this year, it's been "only" 7.29 K/9. He has also managed to lower his walks (career-best 3.24 BB/9) and home runs this year (career-best 0.47 HR/9), though, which keeps his overall numbers looking pretty good. 

Who's Hot and Who's Not on the Dodgers?

All stats are over the last 14 days.

Who's Hot
Andre Ethier-- .348 / .412 / .565 with 2 homers and 12 strikeouts in 46 AB
Case Blake-- .263 / .383 / .447 with 2 homers and 12 strikeouts in 38 AB

Who's Not
Scott Podsednik--  .286 / .344 / .339 with 0 homers and 8 strikeouts in 56 AB
James Loney-- .250 / .333 / .354 with 0 homers and 10 strikeouts in 48 AB
Ryan Theriot-- .289 / .340 / .311 with 0 homers and 8 strikeouts in 45 AB
Matt Kemp-- .250 / .306 / .409 with 2 homers and 13 strikeouts in 44 AB
Brad Ausmus-- .158 / .273 / .158 with 0 homers and 7 strikeouts in 19 AB

As you can see, most of the Dodgers' lineup is struggling, and even the guys who are hitting are striking out at a prodigious rate. Their two new additions have not helped much. Theriot and Scott Podsednik can both get on base OK but both have zero power. Any time Jamey Carroll (.282 / .391 / .333) is your third-best hitter for a significant stretch, that's sub-optimal.

Much like the Giants series from last week, we should expect this series to be a low-scoring affair. Baseball is a funny game, though, and you never know what might happen in a Wrap-Around series. Perhaps the Ghost of Chippers Past will inspire the Braves to a dominant offensive performance. We may not have our team leader on the field any more, but we've still got a good chance to win this series and keep on rolling to a playoff berth.

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