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Series Preview - Braves @ Brewers (July 24-26)

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Braves and Brewers have a nearly identical record and as such, we're both in the thick of the NL playoff race. Unlike the Braves, the Brewers are closer too the division title than the wild card, as they're only 2 behind the division leading Cardinals. The NL Central is tight as always, with the top 4 teams bunched together, with the Cubs & Astros sitting a game behind the Cardinals in front of the fourth place Brewers. The Brewers are a game under .500 since the All-Star Break, while the Braves are 4 over. Its a tale of teams that appear to be going in different directions...lets take a closer look and see what may happen. July 24th - Javier Vazquez (7-7, 2.86) vs Manny Parra (4-8, 6.37) In Javy's last start against the Mets, he absolutely shined, allowing one run over 7 innings while striking out 5. He's walked 6 and allowed 5 runs over his last 6 starts, spanning 33 2/3 innings. Thats a 1.33 ERA for those of you playing at home. Vazquez is absolutely crushing righties, to the tune of a .224 batting average and .560 OPS. This is good news for Javy, since 6 of the 8 Brewers regulars bat primarily righthanded. Its not as if the two lefties in the lineup are going to have a field day with JV...they're hitting .235 with a .650 OPS. He allowed 2 runs in 6 innings against the Brewers in a hard luck loss earlier this season in Atlanta. Manny Parra had a pretty good first full season with Milwaukee last year, going 10-8, 4.39. This year however, Parra's numbers have regressed horribly. His strikeout and HR rates have remained constant, while his walk rate has increased by a full batter per 9. The walk rate is absurdly high, sitting at 5.21, and lowering that needs to be Parra's main focus if he wants to return to the success he experienced last year. Parra's BAA has also spiked this year, jumping 15 points due in part to a BABIP nearing extreme levels (.352). The bizarre thing about that is, that his LD% has dropped a good bit, and his infield pop up rate has increased. Just a strange season for Parra from a sabermetric standpoint. July 25th - Tommy Hanson (5-0, 3.00) vs Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.28) Now this is an absolutely fantastic pitching matchup. Two of the NL's brightest young stud pitchers going head to head. Hanson has absolutely burst onto the scene since his June debut, having yet to lose a start. In his last outing, Hanson dominated the Giants with 11 strikeouts in 7 strong innings...both career highs. In fact, the 11 strikeouts more than doubled Hanson's career high of 5, which he reached 3 times this season...including his first career start against the Brewers. Hanson struggled in that game, allowing 3 homers and 6 runs in 6 innings. Yovani Gallardo is the ace of the future for Milwaukee, and with good reason. He's been the kingpin of their rotation this year, striking out 9.70 men per 9 this season. Gallardo has run into some tough times lately, with the Brewers losing his last 4 starts (3 of which were decisions that went to him). One problem I see with Gallardo is his walks: 4.40 per 9, which is a very high number. However, he manages to balance out that walk rate with a low BAA of .215, due in part to a .273 BABIP. He had an immense amount of success against the Braves back in June, shutting the team out over 8 innings while only allowing 2 hits. July 26th - Derek Lowe (9-7, 4.26) vs Mike Burns (2-3, 6.21) In my preview of the Giants series, I talked about how Lowe needed to get the sinker working again. Well, Derek listened to me and had a 14:6 GB:FB in his 6 inning, 1 run performance on Tuesday. The Lowe that performed that well is the Lowe that the Braves envisioned heading their rotation until 2012 and$60 million investment in. The Brewers unfortunately don't hit the ball on the ground a lot, as they're 14th in the NL in GB rate. Lowe's going to have to work some mojo against this Brewers team. Mike Burns. Who is Mike Burns? Well, he's pitched with 5 organizations since 2005, bouncing around between AAA and the majors. He pitched great in relief for the Reds AAA team in 2006, which led to a callup where he performed...not too well. Burns gets a decent bit of strikeouts, usually between the 5.5 and 6.5 range. He also doesn't walk a whole lot of men...no mark above 3 since 2005. The thing about Burns...his fastball doesn't have much velocity, averaging only 87.2 mph this year. Another issue has been the home runs, as he's allowed 7 in only 29 innings. That could be a problem against this suddenly hot Braves offense. Offensive notes Yunel Escobar is HOT HOT HOT for the Braves, and is the alternator of this Braves team, keeping the offense charged and ready to go at all times. Its a good thing Escobar is playing so well, mostly because of the slump that Nate McLouth is in at the top of the order. No one else on the Braves offense is really playing that badly...McLouth is the only member of the team who really needs a swift kick in the ass. The newest Brewer, Felipe Lopez, is off to a great start with his new team, going 5 for 9 with a triple. Also hot is utilityman Craig Counsell, with a .991 OPS since the break. Home run derby champion Prince Fielder is also doing his thing quite well, with a pair of homers and a 5:6 BB:K since the break. Up tomorrow: who knows? We shall see. HOT or NOT on Saturday!

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