Florida Marlins vs. Atlanta Braves Series Preview: The Fish Come To Town

Coming off a much needed off day, the Braves and their struggling offense welcome the Florida Marlins to Turner Field for a three game set. Dan Uggla and Fredi Gonzalez will square off against their former team for the first time (My guess is Hanley Ramirez doesn't come over to give Fredi an "I Miss you" hug today at the Ted).  Atlanta enters the series with a 4-6 record, while Florida is 5-4.

Florida has won two straight series, against the Nationals and most recently the Astros after losing their opening series to the Mets. They appear to finally be back at full strength with Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton both back in the lineup.  The Marlins, while getting solid pitching, have had most of their success at the plate. They currently rank in the top 6 of the NL in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, and wOBA.  It will be Atlanta's job to slow down those bats while heating their bats up at the same time.

Pitching matchups and more after the jump.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday April 12th, 7:10 EDT Chris Volstad (0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs Tommy Hanson (0-2, 6.00 ERA)

Atlanta's first chance to improve its struggling offense comes against Chris Volstad, who will be making his second start of the season. In his first start, Volstad threw 5 innings, allowing 4 runs (only 1 earned), while walking 5 and striking out only 1 against the Nationals. According to Pitch F/X, last week against Washington, the GIGANTIC right hander (6'8, 230 pounds) primarily threw his sinker and curveball, with his sinker touching just over 91 miles per hour.  As shown in his last start, he sometimes struggles with his control and elevates his pitch count. He faced Atlanta twice last year, and won both starts, including a gem last September, scattering 6 hits and only one run in 8 innings of work.

For Atlanta, it's time for Tommy Hanson to get on track. He's had two subpar starts to begin the season, struggling with his fastball command in his first start against Washington, then with his off speed location against Milwaukee in his second start. An area of concern is a down tick in velocity in Hanson's fastball, from averaging 92.7 mph last year to 91.0 mph so far this season.  Hanson has only recorded 3 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched this season, a very low number for him, as he posted a 7.68 K/9 ratio last season. Look for Hanson to hopefully get back on track tonight. For his career, Hanson is 3-1 with a 3.13 era in 6 starts against Florida.

Wednesday April 13th, 7:10 EDT Josh Johnson (1-0, 2.13 ERA) vs Tim Hudson (2-0, 1.84)

Josh Johnson is coming off of a tough luck no decision against the Nationals, where he pitched 6 solid innings, giving up 3 runs (only 1 of which was earned) while striking out 6 and walking none. Johnson looks to be in typical form so far in 2011, and will be tough as usual for the Braves bats. Johnson is easily one of the best pitchers in the NL, and this matchup against Hudson has the makings of a good pitching duel.  For his career, he is 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA against Atlanta.

After missing all but the last month of 2009, Tim Hudson stepped up in 2010 and became the ace of the staff en route to winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Hudson led the league last season with a groundball % of over 64%, and has repeated this so far in 2011 with a GB% of 61%. Hudson has pitched great so far in 2011, giving up only 3 earned runs and 1 walk in his 2 starts this season. Hudson outpitched his peripherals in 2010, but the regression toward the mean hasn't started yet. He is 9-3 with a 2.84 ERA against Florida in 19 career starts.

Thursday April 14th, 7:10 EDT Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 2.40 ERA) vs Brandon Beachy (0-1, 3.75 ERA)

Ricky Nolasco toes the rubber for Florida in the series finale Thursday night. Nolasco will be making his 3rd start of the season for the Marlins, and he has pitched well in his first 2 starts. He's flashed great control so far in 2011, walking none in 15 innings of work so Atlanta knows he'll be around the strike zone all night. He hasn't struck out a ton of batters so far though, only 6 in 15 innings, it'll be interesting to see if that improves against the Braves surprisingly aggressive hitters this season.

Brandon Beachy continues on his search for his first major league win. Beachy is coming off a start where he uncharacteristically struggled to locate his pitches; leaving far too many over the plate against the Phillies. After striking out 7 in his first start against Milwaukee, he only managed 2 against Philadelphia, so it will be important to see if he has his command back Thursday night. Expect a performance more like the one to start the year against Milwaukee when he pitches Thursday.

Offensive Breakdown

The Marlins have put together some nice offensive pieces and have plenty of young guys with upside and lots of power in the lineup. Hanley Ramirez is expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday after being injured by a Bill Hall slide Saturday night against Houston, while power hitting outfielder Mike Stanton is also back after missing games with a hamstring injury. They've got a nice mix of power bats in Ramirez, Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison along with some speed with Omar Infante, Ramirez, and Chris Coghlan. To be honest, the Marlins lineup would be pretty formidable with Dan Uggla in it (we appreciate you letting us have him for nothing though).

The Marlins have been paced offensively so far by second-year outfielder Logan Morrison, who has put up a line of .333/.476/.606 with an OPS of 1.082. In addition to the core group of talent they already had, the Marlins added a couple of pieces to the lineup in the offseason. Infante was acquired in the laughable trade that sent Dan Uggla to Atlanta, and they also signed catcher John Buck to a head scratching 3 yr, $18 million contract in the offseason.  Once the young guys get going, this is a lineup that could be pretty formidable minus a gaping hole at third base.

Bullpen

Leo Nunez (R) Closer, Clay Hensley (R) , Ryan Webb (R) , Randy Choate (L), Michael Dunn (L), Edward Mujica (R), Brian Sanches (R).

The Marlins spent the majority of their time over the winter retooling a bullpen that was downright dreadful last season, as it ranked 17th in ERA and took the burden for 25 losses in last year's campaign. To try to improve the pen, they acquired our friend Mike Dunn in the Uggla trade. In 3 innings this season, Dunn has 5 strikeouts and 3 walks. We're not surprised. Florida also acquired Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb from San Diego when they traded away Cameron Maybin, then signed Randy Choate as a free agent.  There have been signs of improvement, as noted by a 2.48 ERA and a 78.5 % strand rate, but also 2 losses already from the pen. Leo Nunez already has 3 saves from the closers spot, but has been far from unhittable so far.

Series Outlook

A sweep of the Marlins seems unlikely with Atlanta facing both Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco along with Chris Volstad but winning 2 out of the 3 games against the Fish isn't out of the realm of possibility. Will this be the series that gets the Braves bats going? Will the real Tommy Hanson show up, control in tow? Will Fredi Gonzalez try to bench Hanley Ramirez from the opposing dugout? These are just a few of the questions that will be answered these next 3 days.

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