Welcome to the first season preview of the year. It's our opening week match against the Philadelphia Phillies, and it will be blessed with an opening day pitch by none other than Chipper Jones, himself. He better get it over the plate, or he'll never live it down in the clubhouse. Let's dive into the matchups.
Game 1 - Hudson v. Hamels
Game 2 - Maholm v. Halladay
Game 3 - Medlen v. Lee
The opening day matchup of Aces between Hudson and Hamels should be the best of the series, and with good reason. Hudson has done well containing the Phillies over the years with a few exceptions. Ryan Howard basically owns Huddy with a .338 average and 7 homers in 65 ABs. His OPS (On Base % + Slugging %) is 1.144 in those ABs, which is frankly absurd. Anything over a 1.000 after 50 ABs essentially means you are raking a guy. My advice? Stay the heck away from Howard and focus on the other guys in the lineup. They are much less likely to take Huddy deep. Also, we have to keep an eye on Tim's performance in the early innings. Last season he had a tendency to let the floodgates open in the first two innings, before settling in and allowing nothing. The problem with that was we could often be down by 3-4 before we knew what happened, and that's a disaster with our guys flailing to catch up.
Hamels has always been a tough nut to crack for the Braves. We went 2-2 against Hamels last season, and in the two losses we scored a grand total of 3 runs. However in September, we touched him him up for 3 runs in 6 innings, followed by an explosion against the Philly bullpen that led to an 8-7 win. Keeping that in mind, he's not untouchable. Freeman and Justin Upton should be key in this game, since they have had the most success against Hamels. Both have averages over .260, and an OBP over .320, so we can expect them to get on base. The question is who knocks them in? Sorry to say, the best guy at that is Brian McCann, who owns Hamels with 15 RBIs in 57 ABs. As you well know Brian isn't going to get a start until May at the earliest. That means others in the lineup will have to step up. Oh, and don't expect that to be Dan Uggla. He's struck out 18 times in 55 ABs against Hamels, with a .145 average. At least he has 2 bombs off the lefty. Swing for the fences, Dan. We're not expecting much out of you in this one.
Game 2 will come after an off day because baseball worries constantly about an April shower wrecking their opening day. That means if a game gets rained out, they just move it a day. Weather reports for Monday put that chance at 20%, which is essentially nothing. We're going to need runs in this game. Why? Because Maholm has a terrible history against the Phillies. In 106 ABs, the Phillies lineup is sporting a .330 average off Maholm with 9 doubles and 14 RBIs. The good news? Only 2 homers. That means we can rely some on the defense to get us out of trouble. The defense can't put one back in the park. On the flip side, Halladay looked completely lost in Spring Training. He was giving up runs like candy at Halloween. Many think he's completely lost his fastball, literally. If that's the case, we need to take advantage. Freeman, and ironically Uggla, have done very well off Halladay in the past with their 1.00+ OPS. I'm not expecting a low scoring affair in this one.
Game 3 is the season debut for Medlen, who had an iffy spring as he worked on a few of his ancillary pitches. As most of your know, Medlen works off a fastball/change-up combo with devastating success. He's been working on a slider and curve combo to move into his rotation, but with limited results. Also, Medlen didn't have any starts against Philly in 2012, so we're not exactly sure what we'll get in this game. Cliff Lee has been trouble for our offense in the past. In 2012, we got 3 runs off him in 2 games. Turns out that was enough to go 1-1, but still. Both Uptons will be key in getting Lee off his game, since their hitting and speed have netted several extra base hits off the lefty. A guy you may see start in this one is Reed Johnson. I would put him in over Jason Heyward against Lee, because his success rate along with the Uptons would be much higher than Heyward's in the past. We shall see if Fredi G trusts the numbers or his gut.
So there you have it, the first series preview for the Braves season. Will we win? Will we start like we did last season and get swept? I can't say for sure. Let's see what the CPA (Current Prediction Algorithm) has to say about Game 1.
CPA Pick Game 1: Phillies 4 - Braves 3
Hmmm. The numbers don't favor us against Hamels with Ryan Howard in the lineup. The Braves can lower the bad odds without pitching to Howard, but you also have Rollins who gives Huddy troubles. Stats robot doesn't favor us in the matchup, but the long ball can be the game-changer. We'll see what happens.