Braves at Dodgers Series Preview - Go West, Young Man...

Jason Heyward (not pictured) shows Kemp (left) and Posey (who was out) how to properly levitate a baseball bat while enjoying a Dodger Dog in the dugout.

After a tough 7-game road trip to start the season, the Atlanta Braves are heading out on the road once again. That road trip will begin with four games in Los Angeles as the Braves (7-9) take on the Dodgers (7-9) at Chavez Ravine.

There has been quite a bit of drama and controversy surrounding the Dodgers in the last few years. First there was the ugly divorce between owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and then came the retirement of Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre after just three seasons with the team. Combine that with a failed Manny Ramirez experiment and the brutal attack on an innocent Giants fan on Opening Day and it's safe to say it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for LA.

New manager Don Mattingly has taken over the Los Angeles franchise and the club has experience mixed results in the first few weeks of the season. The Dodgers started off strong at 6-4, but have lost five out of six heading into Monday's 4-game series with the Braves. Let's take a look at their team...

Offense:

Tony Gwynn Jr. - LF
Casey Blake - 3B
Andre Ethier - RF
Matt Kemp - CF
James Loney - 1B
Juan Uribe - 2B
Rod Barajas - C
Jamey Carroll - SS

Mattingly has been changing things around a bit over the course of the last few games, but we should see something similar to this lineup. They're led by outfielders Matt Kemp (.453/.532/.660; holy ****!) and Andre Ethier (.386/.453/.491) and those two do the majority of the damage in Los Angeles. Casey Blake (.269/.387/.423) has hit well since missing the first few games of the season with injury and Jamey Carroll (.347/.385/.408) has been a pleasant surprise in the early going.

James Loney (.158/.183/.228) and Juan Uribe (.143/.222/.204) have struggled mightily in the first few weeks of the season and while catcher Rod Barajas (.200/.250/.400) hasn't been much of a hitter, he does lead the team with three home runs. Tony Gwynn Jr. (.286/.324/.400) gives the team some speed towards the top of the lineup, but he's recorded just three stolen bases in 2011.

As a whole, the Dodgers been pretty inconsistent at the plate. They are capable of putting runs on the scoreboard, though, and the Braves will have to place an emphasis on slowing down Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier if they hope to win the series.

Pitching matchups, a look at the LA bullpen, and more after the jump...

Pitching Matchups:

Monday, 10:10EST:

Tim Hudson

#15 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-1

175

R

R

Jul 14, 1975

Ted Lilly

#29 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-1

195

L

L

Jan 04, 1976


Ted Lilly is a pretty mediocre pitcher these days, but he's a crafty lefty and he'll probably give the Braves a fit at the plate. Lilly is off to a rough start this year (0-2, 6.00 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 5.01 xFIP, 4.80 K/9, 1.80 BB/9), but again, never underestimate what a struggling left-handed pitcher can do to us on any given night.

Tuesday, 10:10EST:

Brandon Beachy

#37 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-3

215

R

R

Sep 03, 1986

Hiroki Kuroda

#18 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-1

190

R

R

Feb 10, 1975


Hiroki Kuroda is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and he's as solid as they come in terms of #3 starters. He's had success so far in 2011 (2-1, 3.48 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, 5.23 K/9, 0.87 BB/9), but has been a victim of low run support in the past. The Braves will have their hands full on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, 10:10EST:

Derek Lowe

#32 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-6

230

R

R

Jun 01, 1973

Jon Garland

#21 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-6

210

R

R

Sep 27, 1979


Jon Garland has been decent the last few years and relies heavily on pitching to contact, but he's been pretty bad so far in 2011. He has been a tad unlucky and is yet to walk anyone, but he's been killed by the long ball in the early going. His stat line (0-1, 11.25 ERA, 8.58 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 4.50 K/9, 0.00 B/9) is a bit wild, but at the end of the day, Garland isn't a very good pitcher and the Braves should be able to hit him pretty well.

Thursday, 3:10EST:

Jair Jurrjens

#49 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves

6-1

200

R

R

Jan 29, 1986

Clayton Kershaw

#22 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-3

215

L

L

Mar 19, 1988


Clayton Kershaw has been brilliant on the mound throughout his career and he's off to another fine start (2-2, 2.96 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 2.97 xFIP, 10.73 K/9, 3.33 BB/9) in 2011. He features four plus-pitches and he'll likely give the Braves problems at the plate all night long. The best way to beat him is to show patience at the plate and force him to raise his pitch count, but unless something drastically changes in the next few days, the Braves will likely be swinging away like usual. We HAVE to be patient if we're going to win on Thursday afternoon.

*These pictures of the pitchers are my favorite part of the series previews. That's pretty unfortunate for Hudson, Lilly, Kuroda, and Jurrjens.

Bullpen:

The Dodgers bullpen is pretty bad. They rank 15th in the National League in ERA (4.84), and they're last in FIP (5.14) and xFIP (4.33). They haven't struck out many batters (15 in the NL; 6.52 K/9) and walk quite a few (9th; 3.91 BB/9).

Their best reliever, Hong-Chih Kuo, is on the disabled list, and closer Jonathan Broxton has been pretty lucky on the mound to start the season (.188 BABIP, 3.38 ERA, 8.32 FIP, 4.53 xFIP). Despite his electric stuff, he's due for some serious regression if he continues to pitch the way he has. Matt Guerrier, Kenley Janson, Blake Hawksworth, and Mike MacDougal are the Dodgers top relievers. Romon Troncoso and former-Brave Lance Cormier round out the LA 'pen, but they won't enter the game unless it's a blowout. 

As crazy as it sounds, the Dodgers do not have a lefty in their bullpen. That's right; There will be no LOOGY'ing Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, or Freddie Freeman in this series. That has me excited. The Braves really should take advantage once the Dodgers starting pitcher leaves the game.

Final Thoughts:

The Dodgers have quite a bit of talent on their team, but they just haven't been able to put everything together this season. Sound similar to a team in Atlanta? The Braves do catch a break by missing Chad Billingsley in the rotation and they'll need to get into the Dodgers bullpen early and often if they hope to score a bunch of runs. I see the two teams splitting the series with two wins each.

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