Series Preview - Braves @ Cubs (July 6th-8th)
July 6th - Jair Jurrjens (6-6, 2.73) vs Randy Wells (3-3, 2.43)
Jair Jurrjens is one of the Braves' All-Star snubs, which is stunning considering the way he handled the Phillies last Wednesday. Charlie Manuel should have been blushing after that performance, where JJ held the vaunted Phillies offense hitless over 6 1/3 innings, only allowing 1 unearned run on the one hit and 4 walks. It was JJ's 4th quality start over his last 5 starts. His record during that time period? 1-3. Yeah. God bless the offense. JJ's BAA is down 25 points from last season, which is always a great thing to see when you have a tendency to walk as many guys as he does. Aside from the BAA, all of his other peripherals are right in line with what he did last season. I approve.
Speaking of near no hitters, Randy Wells held the Braves hitless for 6 2/3 on his start against the team on June 2nd, before the Cubs blew a 5 run lead (punctuated by a game tying homer by Jeff Francoeur in the bottom of the 9th that sent the internet into a dizzying tailspin). Francoeur has 5 extra base hits since that game and has seen his OPS drop to .618. Fantastic. Anyway, more on Randy Wells. He's having himself one heck of a year thusfar, by following a tried and true formula: don't walk a lot of guys, don't allow a lot of home runs, keep the ball on the ground. Those 3 factors combined with a low BAA (due in part to a .274 BABIP) give Wells a FIP of 3.25, which is fantastic. Wells has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season.
July 7th - Javier Vazquez (5-7, 3.05) vs Ryan Dempster (5-5, 4.09)
Vazquez didn't have his best stuff against the Phillies on Thursday, but still pitched well, allowing 2 earned in 5 1/3 while striking out 5 and not walking a soul. The Phillies managed to work deep into counts against Vazquez, and despite not managing to walk, still managed to make him work enough that he had to be pulled early on. Vazquez is among the most egregious All-Star snubs, with his 2.55 FIP and 10.45 K/9. Vazquez is throwing more first pitch strikes than ever this year, which is definitely help him be more aggressive with hitters and get them to look foolish.
Ryan Dempster has come back down to earth after his career year last season, but not with the resounding thud I imagined. His K, walk, and homer rates have all regressed following his fantastic marks last season, and as a result, his ERA has jumped by a run, along with his FIP. Dempster is also keeping the ball on the ground less, and more of those balls being put in the air are going out of the park. Dempster had a good June, posting an ERA of 3.23, but his walk totals have still been too high (despite a walkless 7 inning effort against Houston on June 11th). This is another player, like Pettite in the Yankees series, that the Braves just need to be patient against and wait out their pitches. Hopefully, Francoeur won't be in the lineup to hack at pitches in the dirt.
July 8th - Kenshin Kawakami (4-6, 4.46) vs Carlos Zambrano (4-3, 3.50)
Kawakami just didn't have it against Washington on Friday, allowing 5 runs (4 earned) in 4 1/3 and walking 3 in a game the Braves eventually won thats to recent call-up Brooks Conrad (I TOLD you all he had pop). The 5 runs KK allowed were the most he's allowed in a start since the last week of April, when the Reds beat him to the tun of 8 runs. Hopefully he can get back in touch with his sterling efforts over the month of May & June (3.17 ERA over the 2 months, with a 42:20 K:BB ratio).
A lot of Cubs fans are sick of Carlos Zambrano's near-psychotic attitude, but if he can keep producing for the team, I'd bite my lip and ignore it. Zambrano is a very intriguing player from an analysis standpoint. He's outproduced his FIP in every full season of his career, due in part to being lucky: his highest BABIP has been .291. His K rate has been dangerously low over the past 2 seasons, especially when you look at how high his walk rate has been. Zambrano's saving grace has been a tendency to not allow the ball to leave the park: he's never posted a homer rate higher than 0.96. He's also began to get his groove back, with quality starts in 6 of his last 7 appearances. Zambrano probably isn't worth the absurd contract he was recently given, but he's a good enough starter for a major market team like the Cubs.
Just when I thought the Braves were getting out of their offensive funk, they go out and score 3 runs in back to back games against the worst team in baseball. When you get quality started back to back by John Lannan and Scott Olsen, theres an issue somewhere that needs to be worked on. On the bright side, the Martin Prado experiment continues to thrive with flying colors, as he went 8 for 14 with 5 doubles against the Nats this weekend. Really? The key for the team's offense in my mind is Yunel Escobar in the 5 hole. He absolutely sucked the life out of the team on Saturday with 2 huge double plays to kill rallies, and needs to produce like he did on Friday (2/2, 2 walks) for the offense to really get in gear.
I have no idea if I'm going to get the series recap up tonight or tomorrow...or even Tuesday. Mondays and Wednesdays are going to be tough to get content up on for July and August due to a class I'm taking in the evening, and working all day. We'll see how things fall, and go from there.
Before we get things started today, I just want to say rest in peace to Steve McNair, my favorite football player of all-time. He was the reason I even got into football in 1999 with his performance against the Rams in the Superbowl, and was the reason I became a Titans fan for the next 7 years. I jumped ship and followed McNair to the Ravens in 2006, and I'm still a huge fan to this day. God bless you, and I will always have the memories you've given me over the years, including the sheer awesomeness in Madden 2001 for the N64. For what its worth, I've got 2 McFarlanes and a bobblehead of McNair in my office at all times, as part of my collection. Lord knows they're not going anywhere.
Now onto happier...well maybe not happier...thoughts....the Cubs, who are underachieving just as much as the Braves are this season. Its pretty crazy to think that each of the teams only have one All-Star (the Braves have more, but I'm really too irritated to care enough to write a scathing anti-Manuel article about it), and that the Cubs' is...Ted Lilly? Yeah, seriously. The Braves split the rain shortened series against the Cubs at the beginning of June, and took the rain makeup game 2 weeks ago. This time, its on their turf (grass) though, Wrigley Field. Hopefully the wind is blowing out and the offense can kick it into high gear.