Braves vs. Marlins Series Preview

I know we've all been waiting for what seems like forever to get the bad taste of the Rockies out of our systems. It's hard to imagine a series going much worse, but it is possible. After all, we were at least playing a good team in their park (where they're excellent). The Phillies, on the other hand, were playing a bad (improving, but still bad) team at home, and they got swept in a 4-game series. So if you think we're at a low point, imagine how the Phillies fans are feeling*.

* Did anyone else really want to spell "fans" and "feeling" with a "ph" there? I barely restrained myself.

So the good news is that despite being swept, the Braves have actually increased their division lead this week to 3 games. As long as that crappy series was more of an isolated event than a harbinger, we should be just fine.

Anyway, let's talk about the Marlins a little. Overall, they are 64-62, but they have won their past 3 series. Those series were against the Pirates, Astros, and Mets, so I'm not sure how much that tells us, but they certainly handled the Astros better than the Phillies just did.

There have been three big news stories in Fishland lately. The first is the 50-game suspension of catcher Ronny Paulino for using performance enhancers. Next, they let Cody Ross go for nothing on a waiver claim by the Giants to save a few bucks. The third (much more heart-warming) story involved newly called-up prospect Logan Morrison and his cancer-stricken dad. Go read that story if you haven't already.

On offense, the Marlins are essentially an average club (their 4.51 runs per game is 7th in the NL). Their overall slash line is .256 / .322 / .403, which is not very impressive (the Braves are at .259 / .341 / .405). That .256 average ranks 10th in the NL. Their 8.1% walk rate is tied for 10th as well, significantly behind the Braves' impressive 10.3% mark, which is easily the best in the NL. The Marlins, like the Braves, are a club with middling power--their .146 ISO is tied with the Braves and Cardinals for 8th in the NL.

We'll discuss the Marlins' starters in the pitching matchups after the jump. Their relief corps, like their offense, is pretty unspectacular. Their collective ERA is 4.05 (9th in the NL) and their FIP is 3.99 (10th). Of the 20 (!) relievers they've used this season, closer Leo Nunez (3.38 ERA, 2.56 FIP) and setup man Clay Hensley (2.79 ERA, 2.90 FIP) have been the best. Both have struck out nearly 10 batters per 9 innings with good walk and home run rates. Former Brave LOOGY Will Ohman has also been good since coming over in a midseason trade.

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Tommy Hanson (5.88 IP/S, 3.53 ERA, 3.12 FIP) vs. Chris Volstad (5.68 IP/S, 4.82 ERA, 4.44 FIP)

Big Red has been great this year; he's improved all of his controllable peripherals, though his ERA doesn't show it. He actually has a slightly better FIP than the much-more-ballyhooed Ubaldo Jimenez. Other than the fact that Ubaldo's pitched a lot more innings, I might argue that Tommy has been just as good. It's funny how two guys who've pitched just about as well as each other have such widely differing won-lost records. No, wait. It's not funny, it's just dumb.

I have a hard time coming up with anything interesting about Volstad. He's just kind of a generic 4th starter. He's like Derek Lowe without all the ground balls. In other words, he's not great, and we ought to be able to hit him.

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Tim Hudson (6.83 IP/S, 2.28 ERA, 64.6% GB%) vs. Ricky Nolasco (6.23 IP/S, 4.22 ERA, 3.75 FIP)

I have just one thing to say to Huddy right now: Please, for the love of Smoltz, shave your beard! Not only does it look terrible, but I think it's messing with your ground-ball mojo.

As for Nolasco, he's been his usually self this year: dependable, with lots of strikeouts (8.50 per 9 innings) and hardly any walks (only 1.73 per 9), but with a penchant for getting hit hard at times (including a 1.33 HR/9 innings mark). He reminds me a lot of a less dominant Curt Schilling--big and beefy, with the tendency to give up lots of homers but not many walks. He's coming off two straight scoreless outings in which he struck out 17 men to only 2 walks; of course, he only made it through 6 innings each time, and it was against the Pirates and Nationals.

Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET:
Derek Lowe (5.93 IP/S, 4.33 ERA, 4.22 FIP) vs. Josh Johnson (6.60 IP/S, 2.36 ERA, 2.52 FIP)

Lowe's got his work cut out for him in this one, because I doubt the Braves are going to score many runs off of Josh Johnson. Johnson has matured into a straight-up ace. He does everything well--strike dudes out (8.70 K/9), not walk many (2.20 BB/9), keep the ball in the yard (a staggeringly low 0.37 HR/9), go deep into games, etc. If it weren't for Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright throwing so many more innings, he'd be my pick for the NL Cy Young so far. Still, he's been pretty mortal lately, putting up a 5.06 ERA in his last 6 starts. Maybe the Braves are catching him at the right time.

Stat of the Series

On the last 10 days that both the Braves and Phillies have played, they have had the same result (either both won, or both lost). The last day on which the two teams had different results was August 14th, when the Braves lost to the Dodgers and the Phillies beat the Mets. That kind of mirror-image play is pretty remarkable when you think about it. As a result, the division dynamic has stayed more or less the same for quite a while. (Though the Braves' lead has increased from 2 games to 3 games in that span, since the Braves won once when the Phillies were off and the Phillies lost yesterday while the Braves were off.)

Who's Hot (and Who's Not) On the Marlins?

All stats are over the last 14 days.

Hot
Logan Morrison-- .378 / .500 / .556
Hanley Ramirez-- .373 / .400 / .490
Gaby Sanchez-- .286 / .333 / .612

Not
Emilio Bonifacio-- .235 / .333 / .294
Mike Stanton-- .170 / .204 / .340
Brett Hayes-- .154 / .185 / .269

Ramirez and Sanchez have basically carried the Marlins' offense all year (with an assist from Dan Uggla), so it's no surprise to see them in the "Hot" category. Sanchez, in fact, has a very good case for Rookie of the Year. Speaking of rookies, Logan Morrison has played well since his call-up, but Mike Stanton has really struggled lately.

With Paulino suspended and John Baker on the 60-day DL, the Marlins' catching situation is in dire straits, as Hayes has been terrible. We may see more from his backup, Brad Davis, a 27-year-old getting his first taste of the majors. The Marlins' outfield is also in a state of flux, with Chris Coghlan on the DL and Ross gone to the Giants. The Marlins have recalled Cameron Maybin after a successful stint in AAA to take over for Ross, with Morrison (normally a first baseman) filling in for Coghlan in LF.

While the last game (Lowe vs. Johnson) will be very tough for the Braves, the other pitching matchups look pretty good. And since we're playing at home, we should play pretty well: we've won 13 of our last 14 home series (a 4-game split against the Brewers being the only blemish). I'm not asking for too much, just that we get back to winning series. If we keep doing that, we'll be playoff-bound for sure.

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