I hope everyone's having a good Labor Day weekend! Mine's been pretty swell. Things are going to be different for this series; I'm taking charge of a series for old times' sake. And hopefully this substitute teacher can lead to some good times in the classroom instead of a miserable, "I can't wait for Ms. Hernly to return" kind of experience; but that's out of my control, so let's just hope for the best!
I'm not going to pretend like I have any idea of how MLB scheduling works; every time I think I've got something figured out, something seems to change. All I know that is that every year, there seems to be a bonus third series with a select NL Central team for us, and this year, it's none other than the 100-loss bound Pittsburgh Pirates.
To say that this is a series that we probably need to sweep is an understatement - the Pirates are a struggling ball club, and the Braves are a good team that needs to get the job done against struggling ball clubs. But I must heed some sort of caution going into this series, because it was time last year in which the Braves went into a third series with a widely mediocre Cincinnati Reds team, on Labor Day weekend, and got swept. The potential extra wins there would have easily changed the complexion of the playoff picture.
The Guy I'm Looking Out For: It's really easy to simply say Andrew McCutchen, since he's pretty much the brightest star out in these parts, but we all already know to look out for him. The guy that I'm going to be keeping my eyes peeled for is Ryan Doumit; in 73 career plate appearances against Atlanta, he's hitting a respectable .309/.356/.515 with eight doubles, and two homers. Those aren't exactly eye-popping numbers, but he does have a propensity for the mythical late-inning clutch hits against the Braves, including one walk-off homer back in May, that this Braves fan bitterly recalls, which more or less soiled my day-trip to Pittsburgh. Also, keep your eyes open for 22-year old rookie left-fielder Jose Tabata, whom we didn't see the first six games we played against the Bucs. Since being moved into the second spot in the batting order behind McCutchen, he's batting a blistering .366/.414/.484. It's quite easy to say that the key to the series is neutralizing the top of the order, first and foremost.
A glimpse at the pitching match-ups and a few other things, after the mythical jump.
Labor Day, Monday, September 6, 1:35 pm
|2010 - Tommy Hanson||9-10||28||28||1||0||0||0||165.0||155||76||66||12||48||147||3.60||1.23|
|2010 - Brian Burres||2-3||14||7||0||0||0||0||45.2||56||34||32||6||26||28||6.31||1.80|
Remember folks, this is going to be a day game, so don't forget to tune in during lunch time. Tommy Hanson will be coming off a dominant effort against the Mets, and will hopefully continue his solid pitching in Pittsburgh. But it will be somewhat of an uphill battle, because Tommy has been a pretty different pitcher in day games this year. He becomes a much more hittable pitcher in day games, allowing a hair over five hits per game in eight day-game starts, his strikeouts go down, walks go up, and subsequent K/BB% takes a hit, and to make matters worse, his WHIP and BABIP rates spike in day conditions. It's evident that Tommy isn't quite as comfortable in daytime conditions as he is in the evenings. But hopefully he can defy the numbers against the Pirates.
Brian Burres (LHP) is the likely pitcher to be filling in for the ailing Jeff Karstens. Burres hasn't started a game since May 29th - in Atlanta, where he took the loss after allowing 4 ER in five innings pitched on seven hits, including one homer. Throughout his career, he has not fared well against the Braves, and he is a pitcher that doesn't throw that hard (88mph FB), and doesn't strike out a lot of guys (5.5 K/9), and walks more guys than he should (5.1 BB/9).
Tuesday, September 7, 7:10 pm
|2010 - Tim Hudson||15-6||29||28||1||0||0||0||191.2||152||51||49||12||59||113||2.30||1.10|
|2010 - James McDonald||2-4||6||6||0||0||0||0||34.0||35||19||19||1||13||37||5.03||1.41|
It's a good old Tim Hudson day on Tuesday, and I'm sure we can all feel optimistic on any day Huddy takes the hill. There's really no more superlatives I can add to how Huddy's been all year long, and despite coming off a loss while facing Johan Santana, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be just fine. It's funny, because other sites' pitching previews have the fact that Huddy's allowed (a perfectly acceptable) three earned runs in (a paltry) two out of his last three starts (in other words the mythical quality starts), as problematic. That's simply another testament to how good Tim Hudson has been this year, where quality starts for others, are problematic starts for Huddy.
Opposing Huddy will likely be James McDonald (RHP), whom the Braves haven't faced at all this year. He was traded to the Bucs from the Dodgers, and also went from being a bullpen guy, into a starting pitcher in Pittsburgh. He lives off of a fastball that sits in the low-90s, and a mid-70s curveball, and has a propensity to allow a lot of ground balls and line drives. For this year, he's been striking out about a batter an inning, and has also been pretty stingy with giving up the longball (1HR for the Bucs in 34IP). But he is the type of pitcher that can waste a lot of pitches, and more or less can be waited out (avg. 5.1IP, 101 pitches/start), to get to the soft underbelly of the Pittsburgh bullpen which amusingly to me, contains a pirate ship of cast offs, such as Chan Ho Park, Chris Resop, Joel Hanrahan, Wil Ledezma, and Octavio Dotel. It's too small of a sample size, but McDonald has faced 12 Braves in his career, with none of them getting a hit, and five of them striking out.
Wednesday, September 8th, 7:05 pm
|2010 - Zach Duke||7-12||27||24||0||0||0||0||137.1||176||88||80||21||43||85||5.24||1.59|
Here's the thing - if Derek Lowe can prove that he can pitch through the pain of bone chips in his elbow, he'll make this start. But I recall that bone chips in the elbow is what essentially took Washington's Jason Marquis out for several months earlier this year. So in the event that Derek Lowe cannot make the start on Wednesday, there's tons of speculation thinking that it will be none other than Brandon Beachy who will debut. But Lowe seems to think he can make his next start, so hold on to your butts.
Zach Duke (LHP), will be taking the hill for the Bucs in the finale, and throughout his entire career, has struggled against the Braves. He would be what would be considered a "crafty" lefty, has four pitches of mediocre skill in his arsenal, and mixes up his fastball with a two and four-seam variety. He does not strike out many (24K in 251PA vs. Atlanta, 3.8 K/9), and allows a ton of contact, which leads to a lot of balls in play (.368 BABIP), and he's currently mired in a pretty rough spell right now - since August, he has gone 2-5, with the two wins being of the unimpressive variety against the Mets and Nationals, and has only seen him pass the six-inning mark only once.
Here's some food for thought:
Pirates offense, NL Rank:
Pirates pitching, NL Rank:
|Home runs allowed:
|Earned Runs allowed:
The Pirates are the worst team in Major League Baseball, and the Braves have a real gift in this series, in the midst of a real pennant race. I am going to be greedy here, and aspire for a three-game sweep of the Bucs. If the Atlanta Braves are the creme of the crop in the National League, they have to prove it against the worst of the dregs, and get the job done. I for one, am glad that we're done facing the Marlins, because they've essentially messed around with the NL East standings for the past three years, with us being victims last year. And the Phillies have to play them seven more times, with a four game set starting in Philadelphia, with no Roy Halladay scheduled to pitch, so we can hope that they take those chips on their shoulders and take it out on the Phils for a change.
Enjoy your Labor Days with some Braves baseball, and hopefully enjoy a short work week. Except for you unfortunate kiddos who start school on Tuesday. Ha, sucks to be you!