After a sweep of the Cubs this weekend fueled by good pitching, the Upton brothers, and some clutch hitting from (of all people) Ramiro Pena, the Braves head south for their first series of the year with the new-look Miami Marlins. The Braves (5-1) take the best record in baseball to Florida where they'll take on a Marlins team tied for baseball's worst record (1-5).
The 2013 Marlins are a far cry from the 2012 Marlins that had all of baseball abuzz with their new stadium and star-studded lineup. Owner Jeffrey Loria received mountains of criticism this off-season for gutting his team, selling off every major acquisition they had made from the summer before. Gone are Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio, shipped to the Blue Jays. Gone are Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, traded to the Tigers. Gone is Gaby Sanchez, exiled to the Pirates. Gone is Hanley Ramirez, sold to the Dodgers for pennies on the dollar. And finally, gone is Heath Bell, dumped on the Diamondbacks. All told, since the beginning of last year, the Marlins dumped 7 of their 9 Opening Day starters and 10 players total in a purge that took them from being one of baseball's trendiest topics to the worst team in the National League in the span of 12 months.
So what can the Braves expect from the Marlins offense this week? For starters, a bunch of unknown names. Only 3 of the Marlins 9 Opening Day starters in 2013 were on the Marlins Opening Day roster in 2012 and only one, Giancarlo Stanton, is a particularly good hitter. Stanton is the exception to the rule for the Marlins, an All-Star slugger stuck in the middle of a team of also-rans, minor leaguers, and journeymen. While he is the Marlins most-feared hitter, he's been mired in a bit of a funk to start the year, having gone just 4-22 with no homers so far. That said, Stanton is still one of the most feared power hitters in all of baseball, having hit 71 home runs over the last two years. The Braves will have to pitch him carefully, but will have that luxury because the lineup behind him is significantly less threatening.
Juan Pierre, an off-season acquisition, plays left field and bats lead off for the Marlins. Pierre has never really been more than a slap hitter with speed who can't take a walk very well, and through 6 games for the Marlins he's been exactly that. Pierre is hitting .250/.280/.250 so far on the young season with 6 singles and a walk, though he has yet to register a stolen base. Donovan Solano bats second and plays second for Miami, and has been one of the Marlins best hitters so far this year. Solano's .417 OBP leads Miami so far in the early going, but for his career he's only a .347 OBP guy. Greg Dobbs has taken over the bulk of first base duties for the injured Casey Kotchman and has gone 6-17 so far with one of the Marlins two home runs. The other belongs to Justin Ruggiano, who plays center for Miami. Placido Polanco (3B), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), and Rob Brantly (C) round out the rest of the Marlins' usual starters, but none of them particularly inspire fear in opposing pitchers.
Monday, April 8, 7:10 PM
Paul Maholm, fresh off a masterful start against the Phillies, will take on Kevin Slowey in tonight's series opener. Slowey, who spent the majority of his career with the Twins, signed with Miami this off-season after a brief stint in Cleveland. Slowey is a command pitcher who relies on hitting spots and movement to get hitters out. He employs primarily a 4 pitch arsenal that includes a 4-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, a slider, and a curveball. His two fastballs sit right around 90 MPH and are his most-thrown pitches. In 2011 (he missed 2012 with an injury) Slowey threw his four-seamer 37% of the time and his sinker 29%. His sinker is his best "out" pitch, as it is the only one of his 4 pitches that batters have hit under .300 against in his career. As such, you can expect Slowey to pitch to contact and hope for ground balls. His slider sits around 81 MPH and is his best offspeed offering, drawing whiffs on 9.21% of pitches in 2011. Slowey also employs a slow looping curve that sits around 75 MPH. He most often goes to his offspeed stuff when he's ahead in the count, utilizing his slider primarily against righties and his curve against lefties.
Slowey took the loss despite pitching decently well in his first start of the year against the Nationals. He struck out 4 while allowing 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks in 5.1 innings of work.
Tuesday, April 9, 7:10 PM
In the middle game of the series, Kris Medlen will take the hill for Atlanta opposite Wade LeBlanc. Medlen struggled with his control for most of his first start against the Phillies, but will look to rebound against an inferior Marlins offense. Facing him will be Wade LeBlanc who is in his second season with the Marlins after beginning his career with the Padres. LeBlanc is primarily a four-pitch pitcher, relying on a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a sinking fastball, and a changeup. He also has a curve, but only rarely throws it. LeBlanc's cutter sits around 85 MPH and is especially challenging for lefties to adjust to. It's his go-to offering, thrown 28% of the time. His four-seamer sits around 88 and is thrown 23% of the time. Although it isn't particularly overpowering, LeBlanc locates it well and gets good movement on it. His most devastating pitch is unquestionably his changeup, a pitch that he threw for 22% of his offerings in 2011. It sits at 76 MPH, a whopping 12 MPH difference from his four-seamer, with movement down and away from left-handed hitters. LeBlanc gets whiffs on 18% of the changeups he throws, and it is his preferred out pitch when he's ahead in the count.
In his first start of the year against Washington, LeBlanc allowed 2 earned runs on 5 hits in 5 innings. He struck out 5 while walking two and took the loss.
Wednesday, April 10, 7:10 PM
In the series finale, Mike Minor will look to follow up his dominating performance against the Cubs. Minor will be facing Alex Sanabia of the Marlins. Sanabia is a four-pitch guy, throwing a hard sinker, a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. Sanibia's four-seamer and sinker both sit around 89 MPH, and between the two of them, he throws them over 60% of the time. He throws his sinker more to lefties than to righties, though he isn't afraid to throw both fastballs to any hitter in any count. Sanibia's two offspeed offerings are a changeup and a slider, both of which sit around 81 MPH. He features the slider as a strikeout pitch against righties and the change against lefties, and both are good offspeed offerings, generating over 18% whiff rates in 2011.
In his first start of the year, Sanibia notched the Marlins only win of the year. He shut down the Mets through 6 innings, allowing only one hit, despite 3 walks and only 1 strikeout.
The Braves are clearly the better team across the board going into this series. Winning 2 of 3 is a reasonable goal for this team, but a sweep wouldn't be wholly surprising.