Series Preview - Braves @ Reds (June 16-18)
June 16th - Jair Jurrens (5-4, 2.85) vs Aaron Harang (5-6, 3.74)
This is an absolutely fantastic pitching matchup. Jair Jurrjens was called our best pitcher earlier this year, and he was during April. Since then however, his ERA has steadily fallen to the level it is at now. In fact, after a pair of starts this month, his ERA sits at 4.15. A quick skim of his peripherals points out the obvious culprit: walks. JJ has walked nearly as many this month as he had all of last month. On the bright side, his strikeouts are way up and his BAA is exactly the same. His SLG against is also way down, which points to the obvious: WALKS. KILL. If Jurrjens cuts his walks down this start (to maybe 1 or 2 over a 6 inning start, as opposed to his current level of aroud 3/6), he should be able to lower his ERA and get back on the winning track.
With the exception of last season, when his peripherals took a hit across the board, Aaron Harang has been the ace of the Reds, with an ERA under 4.00 and at least 10 wins from 2005 to 2007. Harang has always been a hittable pitcher (9.4/9 over his career), but balances that out by not walking many batters and striking a good bit of them out. Harang's strikeouts have dipped to a frightening low this month, but against a free swinging Braves team, he shouldn't have any problems getting them to swing and miss.
June 17th - Javier Vazquez (4-5, 3.31) vs Micah Owings (3-7, 4.64)
The CURRENT best pitcher for the Braves, despite his record, steps to the hill on Wednesday, as the red hot Javier Vazquez takes on Micah Owings. Vazquez is undergoing a career resurgence this season, posting career best numbers in ERA, K/9, BB/9, H/9, HR/9, and K:BB. In his last start on Thursday against the Pirates, Vazquez struck out 12 and allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 8 innings. Vazquez is pitching so good this season for the Braves, that he in fact leads the league in strikeouts. The shocking thing to think about is that Vazquez has been actually UNLUCKY this year, with a FIP nearly a full run lower than his ERA. If the Braves start to turn things around and try to make a playoff run, they need the arm of Vazquez to lead the pitching staff to the promised land.
Micah Owings is probably a better hitter than a pitcher. He was acquired by the Reds from Arizona in the Adam Dunn deal last August. Owings's walk and hit rates have each increased each of his first 3 years in the majors, but he has put together a pair of solid starts in a row for the Reds, albeit with a high walk total in each. Owings does not strike out many batters nor go deep into games, which should give the Braves a shot at the Reds bullpen in this one.
June 18th - Tommy Hanson (1-0, 6.17) vs Matt Maloney (0-1, 4.50)
Tommy Hanson had a rough go of things in his last start against Baltimore, but escaped with his first major league win despite allowing 14 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings. Start number 2 was more of a lateral move in comparison to start number 1, as Hanson allowed fewer runs and did not surrender a homer, but did allow more hits and walks against a poorer hitting team. Hanson needs to find the perfect blend of his 2 starts in this one.
Honest confession time: I have never heard of Matt Maloney before. A little quick research tells me that Maloney is 25, and came into the year as the Reds 18th ranked prospect. He was called up from AAA Indianapolis (EDIT: Louisville. I'm dumb) a couple of weeks ago, and has made 2 starts: a quality start against the Cubs where he received a no decision, and a 6 inning effort against the Royals on Friday, allowing 4 runs in 6 innings and taking the loss. Maloney strikes out a decent bit of hitters, and has pretty good control. He also has a tendency to give up the longball, and seems to keep the ball in the air. Playing in a park like Great American, that is living dangerously.
The Braves offense gradually got worse during the Orioles series. Everyone seemed to hit a wall, and the inclusion of the DH did nothing to help the team when the only real consequence of that means that Martin Prado gets 3 more games of at bats. Help should be coming for the Braves, as Casey Kotchman is supposed to come off the DL on Tuesday. The logical corresponding move would be to demote Barbaro Canizares, but with the injury to Greg Norton, I think the move should be someone in the bullpen going down...after his mammoth effort on Sunday, Kris Medlen would be a logical choice.
The Reds are not a very good offensive team. Their best player, 1B Joey Votto, is on the DL with an anxiety order. That leaves their best hitter as 2B Brandon Phillips, who sports an .871 OPS on the season. The most talented Red hitter though, is definitely OF Jay Bruce, who boasts prodigious power despite a batting average that would make Jeff Francoeur blush. Bruce handled the Braves earlier this season when the team was in Cincinnati, and if he can carry the team on his back again, they might have a real shot. But the Braves huge advantage on the pitching side of things may be too large of a hurdle to overcome.
Can someone other than Brian McCann get some good swings on the ball?
Can Tommy Hanson put things together in full for the first time?
Can Jay Bruce turn into a llama and carry the entire offense on his back with the absence of Votto?
Can Micah Owings make it 3 serviceable starts in a row?