Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Final Week: 6 games to go

The Braves played the Brewers last night and lost, so we're tied with the Cardinals for first place in the NL right now, holding the tiebreaker. What's important is that the regular season is 6 days from completion, and we as fans need to be looking ahead to that finish.

What I'm going to be doing is taking a look at the other playoff teams over the next few days instead of just recapping the games left. Why? Because honestly, as much as I want us to take home field advantage, I'm getting the feeling the Braves as an organization don't really care. They don't seem to be putting the best team on the field, and they look satisfied to play wherever. I think that's stupid, but they look like they are putting an emphasis on rest, rather than fighting to the finish. Time will tell if that's the right call or not, but when Freddie Freeman is on the bench? Your best RISP hitter? That tells me you don't care.

I'll start by looking at the team that just tied us, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals hold the top spot in the NL in run differential. They have the most runs scored in the NL. They have the most doubles in the NL. They strike out the second fewest times in the league. They make contact, and they have the highest on-base percentage in the NL. This is a team that has no easy outs. From the outside looking in, the Cardinals are the odds on favorite to win the league and go to the world series if you looked only at their offense.

However, their pitching isn't nearly as strong. Their starter ERA is a 3.51, tied with the Pirates for 3rd amongst the playoff contenders. Their bullpen ERA is also at a 3.54, but that's way down the list of 10th in the NL, and 4th amongst playoff teams. Comparatively, the Braves are 1st still in that category. The Cardinals have one terrifying pitcher, Adam Wainwright. He's posted a 3.01 ERA with a whopping 214 Ks this year. Now, against a whiff-happy lineup, I'd say Wainwright is going to dominate. My guess though is that our whiffers are only going to be whiffing the scent of pine as they ride the bench. The Braves lineup would consist of contact if we were to face Wainwright, and still the numbers are terrible. Guys like Simmons are Justin haven't had a single hit off him in double digit ABs. So, I hate that matchup against pretty much anybody. The rest of their starters are gettable in my mind. Lance Lynn is nothing special, and Shelby Miller is a 22 year old rookie starter. Now, he's a really GOOD rookie starter with a 3.12 ERA, but he's still young, and that matters in the playoffs.

The real focus of the Cardinals is that they never let up at the plate. They press on every AB, and they don't give up many easy outs. A walk starts a rally with that team. You have to be spot on as a pitcher when you face them, because they can destroy you with a bad inning. The Braves aren't that different in that they can kill you with a blast, but the Cardinals can also double you to death. However, in games against the Cardinals this year, nobody pitched better against them in the NL than the Braves. With a 2.85 team ERA, the Braves were one of the few teams that slowed down the Cardinals onslaught, and that can't be said of the other playoff teams. In fact, the only one who would be close is the Dodgers with a 3.05 team ERA against the Cardinals. The Red Birds would much prefer to face a team like Cincinnati, with their 5.05 ERA.

Five starting hitters in the Cardinals lineup are hitting over .350 with RISP on the season. The Braves have one. Five starting hitters on the Cardinals are hitting .298 or better on the season. The Braves have two. Seven starters on the Cardinals have an OPS over .700. The Braves have six. Here's the key though, at home the Cardinals have an OPS of .737, and the Braves have an OPS of .752. However, in away games the Cardinals OPS is .728, and the Braves OPS is .694. That means the Cardinals only suffer a 9 point dropoff on the road in production, while the Braves suffer 58 points. That's a HUGE difference, and exactly why the Braves should be fighting to the finish so they don't lose home field.

We'll see if they can keep it up tonight with Garcia facing the Brewer's Thornburg. However, Chris Johnson, another one of our best hitters, is taking the night off. I don't think they get it. If the Braves lose home field, they may end up totally regretting it in October. Along with the rest of us.


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