I don't think anybody looked at this series at opening day and thought you'd have two teams that were 10+ games over .500 facing off. Yet, here we are. The Pirates pitching, which I openly questioned as a possible weakness before the season started, has been absolutely amazing. Some of that is simply because they are pitching well, and some of it is the opponents they've faced thus far. Pittsburgh has the second best staff ERA in the entire NL, 2 slots ahead of the Braves who occupied #1 not long ago. On to the matchups:
Game 1 - Burnett (3-5) v. Medlen (1-6)
Game 2 - Locke (5-1) v. Minor (7-2)
Game 3 - Rodriguez (6-3) v. Teheran (3-2)
Here's the thing about Game 1, both of these guys are better than these records. AJ Burnett has a 2.72 ERA, and Medlen has a 3.48. Yet, they both have losing records? How is that possible? The answer is run support. It's not something either pitcher has enjoyed en masse. AJ has received an average of 2 runs a game in support in his last 5, and the Pirates are 1-4 in that stretch. Medlen has received an average of 3 runs per game in his last 5, but the majority has come after he's already left the mound, leaving him unable to collect the wins. Both of these guys would love some early runs, and I expect the guy who gets them will shut down the other team.
Game 2 is a battle of 25 year old stars who are pitching some of the best ball they've ever pitched. Minor's battles are well documented, and he's been on a tear winning 5 in a row of his starts. Locke has helped the Pirates win 4 in a row of his starts. Both guys have sub 2.50 ERAs, with WHIPs under 1.20 on the year. Both guys are lefty hurlers with an arsenal of pitches to confuse hitters. The major difference between the two pitchers is that Locke will walk you. When Locke faced Atlanta back in April, he walked 4 guys and gave up 3 homers in a 6-4 Braves win. Because he doesn't give up a ton of hits, the Braves should be patient and take their walks when they get them, putting guys on base for a possible home run threat. I don't think you can beat Locke by dinking and dunking him to death since he won't give you that many opportunities. This is one of those games I think you have to win with the long ball.
Game 3 features a guy in Wandy Rodriguez who has given Braves fans nightmares over the years. When he faced Atlanta in April, he shut down the Braves lineup in 7 innings. In the last 3 years, he holds an absurd 1.73 ERA against the Braves over 5 starts. He's never given up a homer against the Braves in 4 seasons. We could be throwing anybody out there against this guy, and I'd probably think we'd lose. Tossing our 5th guy in Teheran out there, who is prone to giving up early runs? I don't want this game to be a decider in whether or not the Braves win the series. I want this to be the game where we may or may not sweep the Pirates, because the lineup would have to beat the numbers to win this game.
The CPA won on Saturday, but didn't get a chance to pick the early game on Sunday. Game 1 in this series will be pivotal I believe. Let's see what the CPA thinks.
CPA Prediction Game 1: Braves 4 - Pirates 3
The CPA is basically calling this game a draw with a home field advantage to the Braves. The slight advantage in hitting will go to the Braves who have 3 hitters with good success in limited ABs off AJ Burnett. However, Kris Medlen cannot let McCutchen beat him. You can't pitch to that guy with the game on the line. Can't do it! We did it in the last series with the Pirates and it was stupid. Don't let him get you Kris. Let BMac, Justin, and CJ carry the day.