Series Preview - Phillies @ Braves (June 30-July 2)
June 30th - Joe Blanton (4-4, 5.06) vs Derek Lowe (7-4, 4.53).
Joe Blanton really isn't a good pitcher. Well, correction. He's not really good at all at Citizens Bank Park, he's decent enough on the road. Its a shame this game is at Turner, because Blanton has been absolutely abysmal in Philly this year (.898 OPS). In his last start in Tampa Bay, Blanton pitched 7 strong, allowing 2 runs and inexplicably, somehow, striking out 10 Rays (which is somehow not a season high for him). Blanton is actually striking out the most batters of his career this season, and when you combine that with a walk rate right around his career average, his K:BB is looking pretty solid at a shade under 3. Blanton's issue is that he's allowing way too many hits, as judges by his .283 BAA. Blanton's always allowed a high average, but this season is worse than others. Blanton's other main problem is that his HR rate is sitting at 1.83, far and away the highest total of his career, and in fact tied for third in the majors (teammate Jamie Moyer, who we unfortunately miss this series, is first). One more issue for Blanton is that he's got a GB:FB under even for the first time in his career. More flyballs in a bandbox like Citizens Bank = bad times.
Derek Lowe is having a rough month. His ERA has jumped from 3.40 4 weeks ago against the Cubs, to its current level of 4.53 today. He's lost his last 3 starts, and has allowed 16 runs in 11 2/3 in those 3 losses. A bright side of things is that in his last 2 starts, Lowe has kept the ball on the ground more often than he did in his horrendous start against Baltimore 2 weekends ago. In direct contrast with Blanton, Lowe has the lowest HR rate of his career, at a mark of 0.38, which is 5th in the majors. The 2 major issues with Lowe in my book are the two issues I always come back to with pitchers: walks and strikeouts. Lowe has a career low K this season, and a walk rate getting frightening close to the end of his time in Boston. Comparing his stat lines from 2003 & 2004 to this season, I'm getting some frightening flashbacks. Lets hope the man the Braves paid to be the ace can turn it around.
July 1st - Cole Hamels (4-4, 4.44) vs Jair Jurrjens (5-6, 2.93)
Cole Hamels has been very unlucky this year. His strikeout, walk, and home run rates are right around his career averages, and he's keeping the ball on the ground more than he has ever done in his career, but hitters are batting .300 against him, due to a .363 BABIP and 25.2% line drive rate. Ironically, Hamels is doing much better in his bandbox of a home field than on the road. In fact, his OPS allowed is 137 points higher away from Philadelphia. One absolute, horrible negative for the Braves on Wednesday is that Hamels totally kills lefties, to the tune of a .241 average and .665 OPS. And as you all know...the Braves lineup is essentially nothing but lefties. Fantastic.
Jair Jurrens pitched brilliantly against the Red Sox on Friday, but unfortunately, his offense decided not to show up (again). JJ pitched 8 strong innings, allowing 3 earned on 7 hits, walking 3 and striking out 6. The most telling stat is the 16:6 GB:FB, which I always love to see (as you all likely know by now). That ratio is a distinct contrast to his last start against Boston in Fenway, where the rate sat at 4:16. Huge improvement. Like Hamels, JJ's peripherals are nearly identical to his career lines, with the exception of the flyballs, which have sizably gone up this season. Jair has also picked up a tick of velocity on his fastball, curveball, and changeup, which can do nothing but help his progression. A loser of 4 straight decisions, Jurrjens really needs to keep the ball on the ground against this Phillies offense, which thankfully, will be missing the uh..."stellar" Raul Ibanez.
July 2nd - Carlos Carrasco (4-7, 4.92 at AAA Lehigh Valley) vs Javier Vazquez (5-7, 3.04)
Carlos Carrasco is a name Philles fans have been aching to see in the majors for awhile now. A little background: he was Philly's top prospect in 07 & 08, and was #2 in 2009. Carrasco isn't a huge strikeout guy like his counterpart in Thursday's game, Javier Vazquez, but he does get a fair bit of them (8.79 per 9 this season at AAA Lehigh Valley). He'll also walk a fair share of guys (2.84 this season, which is actually a career low). In the past he's proven to be a little susceptible to the longball, but this season, he's cut his HR rate considerably. The reason that his conventional numbers look so horrible this season is due to an unsustainably low strand rate of 61.7%. His FIP is in fact 3.50. The Phillies are hoping their pitching wunderkind can do for them what the Braves stud is doing for them.
In his last start, Javier Vazquez did everything he did to get himself a win short of hitting a grand slam. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as the team got shut out 1-0. Vazquez is having himself an amazing season that should definitely earn him a spot in St Louis in 2 weeks (and if it doesn't, they should shut the thing down forever). He's 3rd in the majors in K rate, 4th in K:BB, 5th in WHIP, and just for the hell of it, 4th in FIP. But yet, he's 2 games under .500. What is this world even coming to where a guy can flat out dominate like Vazquez is doing, and only have 5 wins? Its crazy. He's 1-0 in 2 starts vs Philly this year with a 1.82 ERA, and is allowing a .587 OPS at Turner Field. Dude is a BEAST.
The high octane Phillies offense is struggling without Raul Ibanez, and I never thought I'd type those words in my life. Its been very hit or miss...since Ibanez's injury on June 17th, the team has scored 10 runs in a game twice, and 2 or fewer runs 4 times. Doesn't that kind of sound familiar? The offense is far from horrible without Ibanez around, despite the struggles of Jimmy Rollins (by the way Philly: be more concerned about his sharp dropoff in walk rate than a low batting average. BABIP is Kelly Johnson bad). Ryan Howard is still playing the role of three true outcomes wizard, Chase Utley is still the best second baseman on the planet, and Jayson Werth is playing well enough for delusional Braves fans to want to acquire him. Its going to be an adventure, thats for sure.
The Braves offense sucks. Jeff Francoeur, Chipper Jones & Brian McCann had flat out bad serieses against Boston, and the duo of Nate McLouth and Yunel Escobar each missed most of the series, which relegated light hitting, poor fielding backups Diory Hernandez & Gregor Blanco to the lineup, where they predictably failed miserably. The only Braves to actually really make any noise with their bats against Boston were former Angels teammates Casey Kotchman & Garret Anderson, who each had 4 hits over the series. If the Braves want to gain any ground against the Phillies, the offense needs to drink some Red Bull and make some plays happen. Otherwise, the tailspin down the division will just continue further.
The hated Phillies come to town and the Braves are looking to make some ground, at only 5 out. Hard to imagine that as bad as this team is playing lately, the Phillies are playing worse, despite their series win vs Toronto over the weekend. The Phillies starting pitching is in absolute shambles right now, and could be just the thing to wake up the Braves slumbering offense