Series Preview - Braves @ Marlins (July 28-30)
July 28th - Jair Jurrjens (9-7, 2.67) vs Ricky Nolasco (7-7, 5.42)
Jair Jurrjens is an animal that cannot be stopped. In his last outing against the Giants, JJ allowed 1 earned in 7 2/3 fantastic innings, striking out a season high 9, walking 1, and allowing 3 hits. He's making that Renteria deal look so good now...Jurrjens's ERA hasn't hit 3.00 once this year, and we're nearly done with July. Thats amazing. He's overall 4th in the NL in ERA, behind Dan Haren, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum. Those guys are pretty good, no?
When the season began, I was firmly aboard the Ricky Nolasco bandwagon. I felt like an asshole after his first 9 starts of the season, when Nolasco was 1-3 with a 9.07 ERA. That performance earned him a trip to triple A for a couple weeks. Since his recall on June 7th, Nolasco has kicked it into high gear. In the 9 starts he's made since the beginning of June, he's posted an ERA of 2.73, and has 68 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. Even with his dire first 2 months of the year, Nolasco's FIP sits at a beautiful 3.44, with a 4.04 K:BB ratio. This guy is FOR REAL, and any Braves fan discounting him because his ERA looks crappy is a buffoon. FEAR RICKY NOLASCO.
July 29th - Kenshin Kawakami (5-7, 4.04) vs Josh Johnson (9-2, 2.80)
Kawakami continues his maddening run of starts. Last Thursday against the Giants in the 5-1 loss (thanks to the bullpen!), he really put Bobby Cox in a rough place, only going 5 innings and throwing 97 pitches in that timespan. KK wasn't even TOTALLY effective...3 walks to 1 strikeout in 5 innings is pretty rough, and the fact that he got out of it with only 1 run is a minor miracle. KK isn't even averaging 6 innings a start this year, which is troubling when you consider that his arm is only used to pitching around 160 innings or so in a season. I can see him going on the DL in September due to some shoulder fatigue.
Speaking of guys you should fear...Josh Johnson. Wow. This dude is frighteningly good. There are a few reasons for his success this season...Johnson has kept his strikeout rate right in line with his career average, while cutting his walk rate by 1 an inning, and dropping his already low homer rate down even further. That my friends, is the recipe for a successful young pitcher. Johnson also has a fantastically low ground ball percentage to go along with his good K rate. Oh, and he's only 25...if the Marlins can keep him, Nolasco and Ramirez together for a few years, they've got one hell of a core going, and will be a dangerous team for years to come. Maybe we can pry one of them out of their hands...if only.
July 30th - Javier Vazquez (8-7, 2.98) vs Rick Vanden Hurk (1-0, 2.45)
Javier Vazquez is the man with the plan folks. He actually had some issues in his last effort against Milwaukee on Friday, allowing 4 runs in 7 innings. But hey, he struck out 9. However, JV did allow his first homer in a month, which is a little depressing. Vazquez has actually won his last 3 starts to push his record above .500 for the first time since May 20th. That was a long time ago. As good as Javy has been this year, he's STILL UNDERPITCHING HIS PERIPHERALS by around a half run. Thats insane.
Rick Vanden Hurk (who I will be referring to as RVH for the rest of this preview) is an interesting guy. He's bounced back and forth between the majors and AAA since 2007, and hasn't had a whole lot of success in Miami, posting a 6.96 ERA in 2007-2008 in 22 appearances. Vanden Hurk started the year off down in AAA this year, and seemed to finally "get it", giong 4-1 with a 2.95 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. He was recalled to Florida on the 20th, and pitched rather well in his 2 starts thusfar, allowing 3 runs in 11 innings. However...some of the peripherals aren't jiving too well. His K:BB is only 7:5, while he's allowed 2 homers. In 11 innings? Not too good...FIP has him sitting at 5.51. The high walk total is standard MO for RVH, but he usually strikes out more guys. He's also had a history of allowing a decent bit of homers. I dunno...maybe he really has turned the corner this year, and the RVH the Marlins got in AAA earlier this year if the one thats figured it out and is here to stay. Or maybe, you know, he's going to walk the farm and get shelled.
The Braves offense is really clicking, plating 67 runs in the 11 games since the break. Yunel Escobar is hitting like an absolute titan, and a force like that, along with the now-effective Garret Anderson, is what the middle of the Braves lineup needed to get some runs on the board. Martin Prado has (surprise surprise!) apparently fallen back to mediocrity since the break, and it will be curious to see if he can rebound, or if he'll revert to his true talent level. If he does fall back...Kelly Johnson is healthy, and if Sunday's game is any indication, he wants his starting job back, NOW.
The Marlins offense revolves around one single player, and that is one of the best all-around players in the game...Mr Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is becoming more of a complete player this year, with his homer and steal totals dropping, while his doubles and walks rise. He's got career highs in all 3 slash stats as of right now (except for SLG, which he is off by 5 points on). Dude is an absolute monster. What other Marlins are worth talknig about? Uh...theres not a lot. The second highest OPS on the team goes to Jorge Cantu, sitting at .792. The Marlins have been wasting at bats on some really bad players this year (Jeremy Hermida, Ross Gload, Emilio Bonifacio) and its a testament to how good the pitching and Hanley are that they're still even being talked about in this race. If you control Hanley, you control the Marlins offense. Its really that simple. No more Josh Willingham to screw us over anymore.
The offense gets shut out on Saturday...but hey, the other 2 games in the series were total spankings, so the Braves have that going for them, right? Regardless, the team continues its hot streak (8-3 since the break) and takes the dog and pony show to town to face the hated Marlins of Florida. We're 2-3 versus Florida this season...the Marlins swept us at Turner in the 3rd series of the season, and we returned the favor in a 2 game set a week later. We play them 13 times in the second half...7 in Florida, and 6 in Atlanta, including the second to last series of the year at Turner Field. Should be an interesting time, and the chance to put ourselves firmly into second place is THIS WEEK.