The Braves are having one heck of a time against the NL East this season. Well, mostly. Against the Nationals, Phillies, and Mets, the team is a combined 22-13. If you can play .628 ball against your division, you have a fantastic shot at getting to the playoffs. Theres only one catch to this...and that is the Florida Marlins. Against their closest competition in the division this season, the Braves are 3-6. Zuh? So um...what exactly is the deal here?
When you examine the statistics, the blame can't be put solely on the offense, nor on the pitching. Both aspects of the game are lacking. Of the Braves 8 regular hitters, only Adam LaRoche and Garret Anderson have OPSes against the Marlins that are higher than .850. Unfortunately, Brian McCann and Martin Prado are below .500, while Yunel Escobar is hovering slightly above the mark. In fact, quasi-starter Matt Diaz has struck out in 7 of his 11 at bats against the team, and has worse OPS against Florida than Derek Lowe. You know, Derek Lowe, the pitcher. The real star against Florida is Garret Anderson, with an 1.160 OPS in 8 games. But due to his back injury, Anderson will not be playing in this series at all, which is a huge blow to the team. In fact, the team takes an even bigger hit tonight with Ryan Church having to take the night off due to being banged up. The makeshift outfield being run out tonight includes Omar Infante in left, Reid Gorecki in center, and Matt Diaz in right. The only benefit to that outfield is that with Martin Prado's headaches, Kelly Johnson will get a start at second, and Johnson has been solid against Florida this year (.844 OPS). Anyway, back to the original point. The offense has been really bad against Florida this year. Total OPS? .699. Yipes, just yipes. Do you think they're cognizant of how bad they've got it?
But as bad as the offense has been, can they shoulder all of the blame? Of the Braves 5 current starters, 4 of them have faced Florida (Tommy Hanson has his first start versus them this evening). Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami have been absolutely horrendous, each allowing 10 runs in 2 starts and combining to walk 14 in 20 2/3 innings. They've also allowed 5 home runs, 4 of which were courtesy of Kawakami. And then theres Javier Vazquez, who despite a 28:3 K:BB ratio, has allowed 3 homers and has an ERA near 5 and a pair of losses in 3 starts. The only Braves starter having any success is Jair Jurrjens and his 2.77 ERA.
So we know the starting pitching has been bad, but what about the bullpen? Well, 5 of the members of the current Braves bullpen have not allowed a run, while Peter Moylan has only allowed 1 in a bullpen high 5 innings of work. Ace closer Rafael Soriano has allowed a pair of runs this year, most famously blowing a save and letting Ross Gload walk off back on July 28th, which is a huge loss in the grand scheme of things today. Soriano aside, the rest of the bullpen has been terrific. Mike Gonzalez has especially been a bright spot, with 7 strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. One positive about the pitching has been the amount of strikeouts the team has been getting, averaging 9.86 per 9 innings against the Marlins. The home runs on the other hand, can be completely out of control.
So what does it all come down to in the long run? If the Braves are able to give the bullpen a lead, the game should be gravy. Of course, its much easier said than done against these young Marlins pitchers. Thankfully, the Braves miss Josh Johnson, but will still hit Ricky Nolasco tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, when the Braves venture to Miami next weekend, the team hits both Nolasco and Johnson. And that...is never a recipe for success.