Friday, July 26, 2013

Series Preview: Cardinals

Settle in folks, I have some things to say about this matchup. Do you believe in foreshadowing in the regular season? If you do, this is likely a series you circled on your calendar in late June. This is the kind of series that will define the Braves chances for many people at we get ready to turn the page to August. Many so-called "fans" are waiting for the Braves to fail in this 3 game set, just so they can take to the message boards and scream, "SEE! WE HAVE PROBLEMS AND CAN'T BEAT THE GOOD TEAMS IN THE PLAYOFFS! DOOOOOOOOOM!" Other fans are waiting to see if the Braves will be able to pitch at all against one of the best hitting lineups in the league, just so they know if it's time to panic. Those of us (like myself) who have a hilarious grasp of the absurd know this: It's just 3 games. That's it. We're not playing in the playoffs right now. We're not at the end of the season fighting for a division slot. We're not going to be eliminated if we lose 2 of 3 at home. It's just 3 games against a good team. If we lose them all, we'll still be 5 games up at worst. If we win them all, we haven't gained a single advantage in the playoffs yet. My advice is simple: Don't hang too much on one series at the end of July. On to the pitching matchups.

Game 1 - Minor (9-5) v. Wainwright (13-5)
Game 2 - Teheran (7-5) v. Kelly (1-3)
Game 3 - Medlen (6-10) v. Miller (10-6)

The best pitching matchup by record is without a doubt in the first game. However, the historical numbers don't necessarily reflect that. Adam Wainwright hasn't lost a decision since June 23rd. Minor hasn't lost a decision since...well his last game, but that really wasn't his fault. The Braves scored all of one run. Mike's ERA has been a solid 2.96 in the month of June, but his record is only .500 in those starts. Wainwright has been very sharp at home, but in July he's managed to give up 4 earned runs in consecutive road starts at the Cubs and Angels. Mike's biggest problem at home is the long ball. Wainwright's biggest problem on the road is hitters making contact. The Cardinals starter is at his best when he's fanning the order. With a Braves lineup that loves to whiff, it could be tough for them to establish much leverage on the tough righty. Minor has faced the Cardinals for 2 starts in the past 2 years, and he got lit up. They went for a combined 15 hits, 10 runs in 9.2 total innings. That's an ERA of over 9.00 for Minor against the Cards. Wainwright has faced the Braves 3 times with an ERA of 5.40 and 2 wins. They Cardinals beat the Braves in his outings because they simply outscored his mistakes. There's no reason to believe this game will be close. I think one team grabs control while the other team makes some meaningless dents in a laugher.

If you're looking for an advantage for the Braves, it's in Game 2. Why? Because it's two pitchers going in the match that have never faced the opposing lineup. In the case of Teheran, he's been better at home than Kelly has been on the road. It will be a battle to see who blinks first, since none of the hitters have any idea what they will see at the plate. Typically, that favors the home team, and I believe this is going to be no different. The Cardinals haven't been good on the road in July, going 1-2 against the Angels, and 2-2 in a 4 gamer against the hapless Cubs. Like the Braves, the Cardinals prefer their home turf. Given the location of the game, and the time of day, the crowd should be pretty amped up for a great game.

The final match will be contrasting pitchers Medlen and Miller likely competing for the series win in my mind. Medlen has been awful during July, and that's being charitable. Before, we could just blame the run support issues, but he's also posted a 7.40 ERA on the month. He went through a similar slump in late April before finally snapping the skid with a 7 inning, 1 run performance at home against the Dodgers. I'm hoping for something similar in this spot. Shelby Miller is a 22 year old strikeout artist that likes to throw a lot of pitches. As a result, he works corners and doesn't go very deep in games. However, the Braves have never seen him before. Ugh. Anybody want to take odds on what that means? My guess is a lot of strikeouts and head-shaking. I don't really like this matchup much, but I've been shocked before when the bright lights of the ESPN night game shine on the Braves.

The CPA Predicted the Mets victory over the Braves in the give-up-game, so it moves to 51-34 on the year. Since this is a weekend series, I'll line up all the predictions at once. Here we go:

CPA Prediction Game 1: Cardinals 9 - Braves 2
CPA Prediction Game 2: Braves 4 - Cardinals 3
CPA Prediction Game 3: Braves 5 - Cardinals 3

The CPA thinks Minor gets his teeth kicked in for Game 1. The number spreads for Minor against this lineup are atrocious, so it's hard to argue. However, given the numbers at home against right handed starters, the CPA actually likes the Braves in the final two games. The Braves pen right now is almost a full run better than the Cardinals, so you like your chances if it becomes a battle of relievers. Younger pitchers also means more room for the lineups to make a difference, and if Teheran and Medlen can hold their own, the Braves have a good shot at winning the series on paper. Now, they just need to go win it on the field.


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