Friday, July 6, 2012

Braves @ Phillies: Series Preview

The Braves are 6 games back of the Nats, 43-39 total record, and 23-17 on the road. The Phillies are 13 games back, 37-47 total record, and 17-24 at home. Even with those numbers, the series just feels bigger. Sure the Phillies have played poorly and are in last place in the division. Sure, the Braves haven't lived up to expectations at the plate and trail going into the All Star break. None of that matters when these two teams take the field. The rivalry is just that big.

Game 1: Hudson v. Kendrick
Game 2: Hanson v. Blanton
Game 3: Jurrjens v. Worley

At first glance, you have to love the fact Delgado's not on that list. You also have to love that all of our starters are .500 or better, and all of theirs are .500 or worse. In Game 1, you have the obvious mismatch of a 6-4 Hudson against a 2-8 Kendrick. That's even more lopsided given that Hudson gave up an unusual 5 runs in his last start. Philly fans should worry, because the last time that happened at home, Hudson went on the road and fired a complete game shutout. He has a way of rebounding in epic fashion off bad starts. Meanwhile, Kendrick has been getting worse, and worse, and worse all through June. It started to unravel with a 5-6 loss to the Dodgers on June 6th. After that, he's given up 18 runs in 4 games, 5 HRs, 10 walks, and 28 hits. At one point, Kendrick gave up 6 runs in an 7-11 rout by Minnesota. Think about that for a second. Minnesota is 19th in slugging in the majors, and they are dead last in the American League in wins. Yet they posted double digits on Kendrick and the Phils. On paper, this is very much a must-win for the Braves. If the Twins can post 11, I think we can post 10 of our own.

Hanson is coming off a Monday loss, so I don't think we should use those numbers. I prefer to look at his 5 straight wins in June that weren't on cursed days. Against a Phillies lineup that has Victorino, Polanco, Rollings, and Mayberry all batting under .200 on the week? I think he should be able to operate effectively. Just watch out for Hunter Pence. He's hot as a firecracker witha  .417 average and 2 HRs in the last 7 days. Blanton concerns me because the last time we faced him he threw a complete game shutout on a 3 hitter. That was in early May, though. Since then, he's been very average with his 7-7 record and 4.50 ERA. He's been winning most of his games because the Phillies woke up and hit the ball. Run support of 8, 7, 6, and 9 in his June games helped notch 3 wins for his record. What about his record when he gets 5 or less runs? 4-8 overall. Frankly, he's not a good pitcher. It comes down our starter keeping their lineup under wraps. I think Hanson can do that better than most.

JJ is 2-2 now, and looking stronger. The ERA has gone from 9.37 when he returned from AAA down to 5.19 currently. Granted, he can't live at that number and hope to hang around, but he deserves a lot of credit for dropping 4 off his number in 3 starts. I need a solid six out of him in this game with less than 2 earned. We want a good performance from JJ before we head to the break so he can get a 3-2 record. He goes against Vance Worley who is the opposite of a guy like Blanton. Worley is a great pitcher who gets no support. In late June, Worley was sitting on a 3-4 record with a 2.78 ERA. That's almost unthinkable. However, he's gone backwards since then in his last two games, given up a total of 9 earned in 10 innings. He was part of that 1-11 disaster against the Mets on July 3rd. He's a workhorse, and can go really deep with a lead. Thankfully for us, the Phillies haven't given him many of those. Also, he's giving up a .291 average to left handed hitters on the season. Guess what we have on our roster? 5 guys that hit lefty. SCORE!

Overall, I'd say this series has 2-3 in our favor written all over it. The toughest game is probably the last one with JJ v. Worley, but Blanton is also a swing game if we struggle at the plate. Patience will play a huge part in our approach, because we want to drive the Philly starters out of the game ASAP. With a 4.68 ERA, their bullpen is 14th in the NL, and one of the reasons they can't hold it together this season. Push to the pen with us in the lead, and it's all over. Also, given the pitching, there's 20+ runs for us to get in the series if we hit smart.

Go Braves!

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