Series Preview - Braves @ Dodgers
I'm goin...back back...to...Cali Cali! Because the trip at the beginning of the year to San Diego and San Francisco just went SO well...
The Braves kick off an 11 game road trip by heading to Los Angeles to take on the second place Dodgers, who have the same record as the Braves and are a game out of first...despite a run differential of +9. Something isn't computing here. The Dodgers have the second best home record in baseball, behind the Braves of course, and the Braves are 12-16 on the road...something is going to need to change for the Braves to remain near the top of the class of the National League.
Lets take a look at the Dodgers offense first. Its led by star outfielder Andre Ethier, hitting .360/.422/.676 on the season, but he's only 1/14 since coming off the DL Monday. The other young star outfielder is Matt Kemp, who has posted a line of .281/.342/.512, but Kemp's once fantastic stolen base ability seems to have gone by the wayside, as he's only 7/15 for the season. He's obviously still a threat on the bases, but it appears he's just making more stupid decisions on the bases this season. He was actually called out by team management earlier in the season, leading to a cute little feud. In addition to those two, the Dodgers third outfielder is pretty good himself: Manny Ramirez. Manny doesn't appear to be the same player anymore, with an OPS of only .836 on the season. Nevertheless, he's still a very dangerous hitter and shouldn't be screwed around with. The rest of the Dodgers offense isn't too scary, with men like Casey Blake, the fallen off a cliff Russell Martin, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, and James Loney getting most of the playing time in the infield. None of these guys really strike fear into my heart like the outfield for the Dodgers does, though.
The Dodgers pitching this season has been...iffy, I guess you could say. Tonight's starter is the dependable Hiroki Kuroda, who has only struck out 6.39 men per 9 this season. Good start. On Friday, the Braves get Clayton Kershaw, a dangerous young starter who strikes a ton of men out...but responds in kind by walking a lot as well. For a Braves team that leads the league in walks, Kershaw is someone the team should really look forward to facing. Saturday's starter is Chad Billingsley, maligned by Dodgers fans, and I'm not sure why...he's a really great young pitcher, and I'd love to have him on my team. I guess they're not fans of him allowing .96 homers per 9, in the same vein of Kuroda doing the same thing. And finally, Sunday's starter is Dodgers "great story" of the year John Ely, who has only walked 8 men in 46 innings, giving him more than an ample chance to keep his team in the game.
The Dodgers bullpen isn't too great, though they did get rid of some of their dead weight. Justin Miller and Travis Schlichting both joined the team this week and haven't allowed a run in their combined 3 outings. Jonathan Broxton and Hong Chih Kuo are both absolute STUDS, with ERAs under 2.00 and more than 12 strikeouts per inning each. These guys are the reason that the Braves need to not go into the late innings trailing, because they can shut a team down quick. The other 3 members of the Dodgers bullpen are Jeff Weaver, Ramon Troncoso, and Ronald Belisario. None of those three are very good.
The Braves offense is kicking on all cylinders, thanks mostly to Martin Prado, the NL batting average leader, Jason Heyward, MVP candidate and Rookie of the Year lock, and Troy Glaus, third in the league in RBI despite being...Troy Glaus. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are both struggling with their power this season, but have both proven to be quite adept at reaching base in front of Glaus to be driven in. Glaus has been hitting 5th in the lineup lately, and when all 4 guys ahead of him are playing, he's getting the table set with 4 guys who have OBPs all above .365. Now that is just insane, and explains why he's getting so many opportunities to get RBI. 3 of the 4 Dodgers starters are righties, so expect a healthy dose of Eric Hinske in left field for the Braves, who's torrid pace has cooled, but is still really good. Yunel Escobar and Nate McLouth are still struggling terribly for the Braves, and are creating a void in the bottom of the lineup that just murders rallies.
The Braves starting pitchers for the series line up as such: Kris Medlen tonight, Kenshin Kawakami tomorrow, Tommy Hanson Saturday, and Tim Hudson Sunday. Medlen has made 3 starts since transitioning to the rotation, and has an ERA of 3.50...more than capable. Kenshin Kawakami hasn't won this season yet, despite turning in 3 straight quality starts. He's got a 2.41 ERA over that span...talk about some really crappy luck. He looked to have a win in the bag last Sunday against the Pirates before allowing a game tying 2 run homer and getting pulled. Tommy Hanson has turned in a pair of quality starts since allowing 13 earned in 8 2/3 innings in his 2 starts prior to that. Those two bad starts appear to be the exception, not the rule. And finally, theres Tim Hudson...9 out of his 11 starts have been quality, and he hasn't allowed more than 3 runs in a start all season. His xFIP is 4.37 despite an ERA of 2.30. He's gotta get the walks down and the strikeouts up if he wants to keep his ERA that low.
Looking at things from a realistic standpoint, its a huge series for the Braves. I'd be content with a split against one of the better teams in the league, but a series win would be absolutely fantastic, with the Braves coming in on fire with 8 straight wins. The Phillies are playing the first place Padres this weekend, and this is a great chance for the Braves to increase their lead in the division even further. If the team is able to split or take 3 of 4, the team would at least maintain the lead they have now. And quite frankly...I'm liking this whole first place thing, and would like to stay there the rest of the season.