The Braves come off a series win against the Houston Astros and make their way to the last place Dan Uggla did something useful in a baseball game, or, as it is less commonly known, Philadelphia. The Braves will face the Phillies four times in three days with the teams matching up for a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
Things will kick off on Friday with Julio Teheran matching up against one of those mediocre pitchers who dominates the Braves in Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick has a 4.36 ERA in his career but a 3.23 ERA against the Braves. Last time the Braves saw him they managed to put two runs on the board in seven innings which actually isn’t too bad considering how the offense has played this season. The Braves though should have an advantage with Julio Teheran on the mound. Teheran has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year and, while his ERA has risen to 2.41, his FIP has significantly declined to 3.39. Teheran was likely lucky early in the season to limit runs so effectively, despite a less than ideal strikeout level, but his peripherals are all moving in a positive direction. Over the last month, Teheran has a 2.76 FIP while striking out over eight batters per nine innings and only allowing one walk per nine. Teheran has had a little worse luck over that time but his success should be much more sustainable.
On Saturday, the Braves will match up The Struggling Ervin Santana (his real name) against Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez has been nothing special this year with a 4.41 ERA and even worse 5.02 FIP. I say that with the obvious caveat that he has been nothing special except when facing the Braves. Santana is a streaky pitcher who has had worse luck over the past month or so than he really deserves. Hernandez has had better luck against the Braves than he really deserves. It is reasonable to expect the Braves to have the advantage in the first half of the doubleheader.
For the second game on Saturday the Braves will give David Hale another opportunity to show what he can do as a starter. Hale has been pretty poor in the majors this year with 22 strikeouts and 22 walks. In case you need me to point out the obvious, that is pretty terrible. Hale is a better pitcher than all that, and his low BABIP and low home run rate suggest he has done a good job of limiting hard contact. But maybe that is because he hasn’t thrown the ball over the plate in the majors this year. Sean O’Sullivan will start for the Phillies and it is hard to feel like despite Hale’s struggles the Braves will be at a disadvantage. Sean O’Sullivan is really bad. He has a 4.31 ERA in the minors this season and career 5.89 ERA in 218 major league innings. As poorly as Hale has pitched this year he is an actual prospect and not a 27 year old relief pitcher forced into starting duty playing for his fifth major league team.
The series will end with Aaron Harang performing his next carry a piano across a trapeze act against David Buchanan. Buchanan is a rookie who has so far managed a rather dismal 4.79 ERA in the majors (with an identical FIP). Buchanan is a prospect with a good arm who came into the bigs with questionable command and control. To this point his main issue has been a lack of strikeouts and allowing too many homers rather than the high walk rates that plagued him in the minors. He is a guy who major league hitters have often been able to tee off on. The Braves should have a decent chance of doing just that.
Justin Upton will look to take the lead in doing that. It has been fun as a Braves fan learning to recognize the onset of a brilliant Justin Upton hot streak. Justin caught fire against Houston and if we have learned anything it is that, when he gets going, Justin can carry the team. Hopefully Fredi movies him higher than sixth in the lineup for this series. This would be an excellent time to move him to second in the order and watch him abuse the bandbox of a park that the Phillies play in.
Overall the lineup is an issue right now. Lineup construction is one of the least important aspects of a team winning games but it is also one of the easiest problems to fix. The Tommy La Stella, BJ Upton combo at the top really isn’t sensible and with Justin’s monster series against the Astros this would be an ideal time to move Justin up and BJ down. La Stella has struggled mightily at the top of the order and whether his struggles have any actual connection to his lineup spot, there really isn’t a compelling reason to keep him where he is.
The Braves come into this series against the Phillies with what should be the better team. The Phillies quite thoroughly curb stomped the Braves two weeks ago in Atlanta so Braves fans shouldn’t exactly be overflowing with confidence. But this mediocre Phillies rotation and aging lineup isn’t really a group the Braves have reason to fear. As always, expect the unexpected, even things as unlikely as Dan Uggla being useful.