After sweeping a quick two-game set against the Houston Astros, the Braves head out west for a two-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks come into the series with an overall record of 18-25, sitting 4.5 games back of the NL West leading Colorado Rockies. For the month of May, Arizona has a record of 7-8 and are coming off a series against San Diego where they split the series one game each.
Arizona is a very different team from last season, as new general manager Kevin Towers came in during the off-season and wasn't shy about making moves. The Diamondbacks decided to add plenty of veterans in free agency, signing Melvin Mora, Geoff Blum, Xavier Nady, Aaron Heilman, and Henry Blanco among others. They also traded for starters Zach Duke and Armando Galarraga.
The Diamondbacks weak spot so far this season has mainly been its pitching, so we'll breakdown that pitching and more after the jump.
Wednesday May 18, 9:40 EDT
In the first game of the series, Atlanta has recalled top prospect Julio Teheran (0-1, 5.79 ERA, 6.57 FIP) to make his second major league start. In his first start, Teheran struggled some as he looked to be battling nerves on the mound against Philadelphia. Teheran went 4.2 innings, giving up four hits and three runs while walking two and striking out one. Expect Teheran to look more comfortable in his second start, which will lead to better command of his fastball and change-up which he struggled with in his debut.
Arizona counters with left-hander Joe Saunders (0-5, 5.48 ERA, 5.38 FIP), who they acquired last season while trading away Dan Haren. Saunders simply hasn't been any good for Arizona since he donned a Diamondback uniform. In his last start, Saunders threw six innings against the Dodgers, giving up six hits and four runs (three earned) in addition to walking four and striking out two. For the season, hitters are batting .294 against him. With a K/9 of 4.89 and a BB/9 of 4.70, Atlanta will have plenty of opportunities to get on base and get the offense going. According to Pitch F/X, Saunders primarily uses a four seam and two seam fastball, along with a change-up. He also has a curve and a slider that he uses less. Saunders average fastball velocity is just over 89 miles per hour, and we all know how Atlanta struggles against soft tossing lefties. However, Atlanta could and should be able to to get on Saunders quickly. Saunders hasn't gone longer than 6.2 innings in any start this season.
Thursday May 19, 9:40 PM EDT
In the finale of the short series, Atlanta sends Jair Jurrens (5-0, 1.66 ERA, 2.51 FIP) to the mound. Jurrjens has been fantastic for the Braves in 2011 and he certainly was in his last start as he scattered three hits and three runs (two earned) over seven innings against Philadelphia as he walked one and struck out six. The key to Jurrjens ascension has been his improved control, as his BB/9 has fallen from 3.25 last year to a minuscule 1.45 this season.
Arizona will counter with Josh Collmenter (2-0, 0.90 ERA, 2.48 FIP), who will be making his second start after his first seven appearances this season were as a reliever. In his first and only start, Collmenter threw six shutout innings against the Dodgers, allowing only two hits while walking none and striking out three. Collmenter appears to have impeccable control, as he has walked only one batter in his twenty innings of work this season. According to Pitch F/X, Collmenter primarily throws a four seam fastball with an average velocity of 87.4 miles per hour. His main secondary pitch is a change-up which he has thrown 23.5 % of the time, and also a curve ball that he has used 4.0 % of the time. While Collmenter is a bit of an unknown, Atlanta should have the edge on the mound in game two.
Arizona has had some struggles at the plate in 2011, as they are 11th in the NL in batting average (.240) and 12th in on-base average (.312). They have had some success though, as they are ranked fourth in slugging percentage (.401) and are tied for sixth in wOBA (.317).
The Diamondbacks rely heavily on the long ball,and are led in that category by Justin Upton and Chris Young who both have eight. Upton is hitting .259/.337/.487 while Young is hitting .225/.272/.462. Stephen Drew (.276/..357/..425), Ryan Roberts (.277/.397/.515), and Miguel Montero (.268/.362/.447) are also hitting well.
Former Braves Kelly Johnson however is struggling mightily. After a fantastic 2010, Johnson is hitting .184/.253/.309 with only four homers. The Diamondbacks do get back Willie Bloomquist tonight as he has been activated from the DL. Bloomquist was hitting .306/.323/.419 with seven steals before the injury. Arizona likes to steal bases and have eight players with at least one stolen base so that will be something to keep an eye on.
The Diamondbacks also have hit better at home, as they are averaging over five runs a game at home compared to barely over three on the road.
J.J. Putz -RH (Closer)
Juan Gutierrez -RH
David Hernandez -RH
Sam Demel - RH
Joe Paterson -LH
Aaron Heilman -RH
The Diamondbacks bullpen has been pretty solid so far this season. They are fourth in the NL in ERA at 2.78 and fourth in FIP at 3.42. J.J Putz is 9-9 in save chances with an ERA of 2.40. David Hernandez, Juan Gutierrez, and Sam Demel have been their most used bullpen arms, as all three have pitched at least 18 innings out of the pen. With only one left-hander, it limits the match-ups they can try against the Braves batters. They are prone to walk some batters though, as they have three relievers with a walk rate of 4.00 or higher.
Atlanta has a clear pitching advantage in game two of the series, and if Julio Teheran comes out in game one showing more confidence and less nerves, the Braves should have the advantage in both games on the mound. Arizona does hit better at home, but Atlanta should expect to at least split the two-game series if not sweep it.