To be the best you have to beat the best. Right now the Dodgers are the best in their division at 11 games over .500, and they have gone 6-4 over their last 10 games. The Braves are now 20 games over .500, and they have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games. I'd say that we have the better team, but this series also heralds the beginning of the "Six Man Rotation" a move I'm vehemently against. I could be wrong, but we'll see how it pans out. On to the matchups!
Game 1: Hanson v. Capuano
Game 2: Sheets v. Harang
Game 3: Minor v. Billingsly
I hate our matchups in this series. I understand why we're doing it (HINT: we want Maholm, Medlen, and Hudson to go against the Nats), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. In Game 1 you have Hanson coming off the DL against Capuano who is coming off an 8 inning shutout in Miami. Capuano is very much a strikeout artist, having notched 22 Ks in his last 3 starts. However, he's also subject to giving up walks with 7 in those games as well. He's the kind of pitcher you can run up a count on if you're not getting aggressive or going down 0-2 in the counts. Meanwhile, Hanson hasn't gone more than 5 innings and change since July 7th. His pitch economy has been a major issue with his outings, often causing him to leave after just 5 innings with over 100 pitches. He's also been walking people at an alarming rate with 16 walks in his last 4 games. I think this game could be a total disaster for us. Capuano is sporting a 3.11 ERA to Tommy's ballooning 4.29, and our lineup has a .239 average against Cappy. If we win, we win and I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not counting on it.
Sheets goes in the second game against a very steady Aaron Harang. Sheets bore the brunt of a bad start and even worse hitting in his last outing, losing in a misleading 5-6 score. He's due for a large bounceback in my book. Harang has been cruising with a 3.76 ERA, giving up between 2-4 runs a start on most of his games. The thing is, he's rarely picked up enough run support in those matches to notch any wins. As such, he's lost 7 of his last 10, and his ERA is actually higher over those games around 4.45. Even better for us, the Braves has a career .353 batting average off Harang across the lineup. The biggest killers? Bourn, Heyward, and Uggla who slug a combined .660 off the righty. Meanwhile, the guy who hurts Sheets the most, Juan Uribe, isn't even likely to play in this series as he's 3rd on the depth chart at 3rd base. Take him away, and the rest of the lineup is barely hitting .220 off Sheets. I love this matchup.
Minor doesn't worry me as much as he used to coming up in game 3, but against a guy like Billingsly, I have my concerns. Billingsly is red hot, having won his last 5 in a row with a miniscule 1.56 ERA. Minor has lost his last 2 in a row, with an ERA around 4.15 for those games. Bear in mind that those losses against Minor were almost entirely on the Braves lineup scoring only one run in both of those games. Nobody was going to win in those situations. Billingsly doesn't walk many guys, he has a very low WHIP over his last month, and we're batting .248 against him lifetime. This would be the perfect opportunity to sub in David Ross, who is 3-5 against Billingsly, as well as giving Juan Fransisco a shot in place of Chipper who only has 2 hits in 9 ABs off the Dodgers righty. I'm sort of advocating the Sunday GUL (Give Up Lineup) in this scenario because they ironically have better numbers than the starters. Still, winning this one would be a steal, and we will probably need to win it if we want to take the series.
So there you go. As you can see, I'm only really seeing an advantage for us in Game 2. That means Tommy and Minor are going to have to grind, because not only will they be pitching for the series, they are likely pitching for their spot in the rotation.