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series-preview-braves-nationals | May | 2010 Articles

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Series Preview - Braves @ Nationals

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I'm just hoping MLB.TV doesn't black this series out...because I get MASN now, and I really don't want to listen to Rob Dibble... The Nationals run differential is 3rd worst in the NL. Naturally, they're a game above .500. God bless small sample sizes at the beginning of the year. The NL East is so bunched up right now, that the Braves, who as I'm sure you all remember, recently lost 9 in a row, are only 3 games out of first. A good series here could move the team near the top of the division...which makes me laugh a little bit with how inept the offense has looked at times. But I digress. The Braves play only their third interdivisional series of the year, as they travel to Washington to take on the Nationals. As I mentioned earlier, this team is a game above .500 despite star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman only playing in 17 games. He has been phenomenal in those 17 games, but when your best player misses a quarter of your team's games, you're not supposed to be good. The offense has been solid this year, with Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham joining Zimmerman in posting OPSes above .800, with Willingham and Dunn both posting insanely great walk rates. The rest of the offense has ranged from above average to flat out bad, with Pudge Rodriguez hitting like a machine and Nyjer Morgan playing effectively in center. It all hasn't been rosy for the Nats offense though...Morgan has been caught stealing on the basepaths nearly as much as he's been successful, and Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy have been absolutely ghastly (though with the way this Braves offense has been playing, I can't really pick on them). How about the Nationals pitching staff, which has historically been a weak point for the team? Tuesday's starter, Livan Hernandez, has been pitching like a man possessed, despite only 10 strikeouts in 31 innings, which is...certainly something to be terrified if if you're a Nationals fan. Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard have been dynamite in the back of the bullpen, combining to strike out 38 in 31 2/3 innings and allowing 2 runs collectively. Unfortunately, the Braves miss the Nats worst starters in this series, those being John Lannan (the staff ace, chuckle) and Craig Stammen. Those 2, Hernandez, and game 2 starter Luis Atilano all have strikeout rates under 4.00 per 9...I don't even know how that's possible, though Atilano's mark has only come in 12 innings. The Nats starter in game 3 is Scott Olsen, who unlike the rotation, has shown the ability to strike batters out...but he's also posted a WHIP of 1.50, so all isn't rosy for him. Out of the 3 Washington starters in the series, he's the one I'm most concerned about. Overall however, I'm more concerned about the Nationals offense, which could tee off on the Braves rotation... Tonight's game will be started by Kenshin Kawakami, who...has not been good this year. His K:BB ratio is near even, and the strikeout rate is nearly Nats level bad. He's allowing a ton of hits, which is par for the course for him, but has only allowed 1 homer...thank god. The Nats potent offense could totally tee off on him, and the possibility for ugly flashbacks to last July are definitely on the table. Wednesday's starter is (thank god) Tommy Hanson, who has by far been the Braves best this season, and one of the best in the NL. Hanson is striking out 10.24 per 9, and has only walked 10. The major knock on Hanson throughout his minor league career was his uncanny ability to allow flyballs, and he's getting bitten by that this year, allowing 2 homers already. He's overall allowing more flyballs than groundballs, but the rate isn't that bad...a good sign. Tommy hasn't allowed more than 2 runs in a start all season, but he's only gotten through the 6th inning twice. The Braves will need him to not throw a lot of pitches against this patient Nationals team with the likelihood of Kawakami getting knocked out early and the Nats getting to the Braves pen sooner than I'd like to see. Hanson's last start against the Astros was the peak of efficiency, as he willed the team to end the 9 game losing skid, allowing 2 runs in 8 innings and only throwing 99 pitches. The final pitcher of the series is Tim Hudson, who has been an enigma this season, posting an even K:BB ratio, and somehow keeping his ERA under 3.00. This folks, is why we try not to look at ERA too much in sabermetric land. Hudson has not been that great, but people are talking themselves into the fact that HE'S BACK or something along those lines. Durability for Hudson has been great, as he has only been one out shy of pitching through the 6th inning in all of his starts. That start, his second of the year against the Padres, has been his only non-quality start. A little food for thought. The Braves bullpen continues to be excellent, with Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Peter Moylan, and Kris Medlen providing a dominant quartet for whatever late game innings you want. Eric O'Flaherty has been a huge surprise in middle relief, allowing just a single run in 9 2/3 innings pitched. If Hanson is able to eat some innings, the pen should only have to work hard tonight in relief of Kawakami. Now, we get to the Braves offense. Its been an adventure this year, thats for sure. Martin Prado started the year off on fire, but has considerably cooled since then, and is no longer the team leader in OPS, which was inflated due to a high batting average. That honor now goes to Jason Heyward, who has been one of the best players in the NL, let alone the best rookie. Heyward's 7 homers and 23 RBI are near the top of the leaderboards in the NL among all players. The other 3 Braves outfielders (Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera, and Matt Diaz) have combined for 2 homers (both by McLouth) and 13 RBI. To say Heyward is carrying the outfield is a massive understatement...he's not only carrying them, he's picking them up with one arm, throwing them on his back, and running a marathon. Chipper Jones has started slow and may not have much left in the tank, though he is still walking with a patience rarely seen in his career, and Brian McCann's struggles are preventing the offense from really taking off. Troy Glaus showed signs of life this weekend against the Astros, and if he can keep it up, the offense will be fine in due time. This is a key series for the Braves, as a pair of wins will put the team only 2 games under .500 with a huge battle against the reigning champs in Philly coming this weekend. I'll be at the Friday game, so there will not be any posts until I get home (if I'm awake) at like midnight, and of course...plenty of pics!

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