04 May 2007

Braves Preview: Ayiyiyi!

The Braves are scary. They have six mashers at the top of the lineup, and two great starters in their rotation. They are 17-10 so far, with a 142-126 runs scored margin. They're tied with the Mets in the east, who actually have a much better run differential. The Braves big weakness so far has been the back end of the starting rotation. The bullpen, often a weakness in the past, has a fine 3.58 ERA so far. The Dodgers only get to face one of those back end rotation guys, though, so they will be happy to get to the bullpen against Smoltz and Hudson.

The matchups are Tomko v Smoltz, Lowe v Hudson, and Wolf v Davies.

Here is the typical Braves lineup:

2B -- Johnson
SS -- Rentaria
3B -- C Jones
CF -- A Jones
C -- McCann
RF -- Francoeur
1B -- Thorman/Wilson
LF -- Diaz/Harris

McCann and Francoeur will switch places against Wolf; the bottom two hitters might be switched around as well. If McCann can't play because of his lingering hand problems the bottom of the lineup would be further jumbled.

The normal top six hitters all have OBP above 0.350 and SLG over 0.475, most are closer to 0.400 and 0.550. The Dodgers had better squeeze all the outs they can against the platoons and pitchers.

Right now the Braves seem to be winning based on home runs: they out-homer the opposition 38 to 22. They only have a small edge in on-base percentage, 0.354 to 0.350. If the Dodgers can eliminate the home run advantage in this series, maybe sneak in a few of their own and hold down the Joneses, they might have a chance to win 2 of the 3. I'm too much of a Dodger fan to make a legitimate prediction for this series, though, so I won't. Let's just say that my fan prediction would rhyme with "codgers weep". My realistic prediction would rhyme with "come shout love free".

Larry Wayne Jones Jr.

age: 35
bats: switch

0.318 -- 0.421 -- 0.692

His real name made me chuckle; he's better known as "Chipper". I can't believe he's 35. I know he's been around forever, but I had no idea he was that old. He's just a monster as a hitter. What else is there to say? He's slightly better from the left side of the plate, but he's still great from both sides: Wolf won't be getting a free pass when he faces him. In fact his OPS is above 1.000 against every Dodger starter in this series. He gets on base more on the road, but hits more home runs at home. His OPS is above 1.000 for every split you can imagine except for day games, where he only has a 0.766. Of course, this means his night OPS is 1.266. Only the Sunday game is a day game.

He's a fastball hitter. If the Dodgers want to have success against him, they'd better be able to throw breaking balls for strikes against him, and not hang them! If they can't do this, then maybe it would be best to walk him. The problem with that is he's surrounded by a bunch of scary hitters, so walking him probably isn't a good idea.

The only thing that might slow down Chipper is injury. He sat out a week in March because of a strained oblique muscle. Even with those missed games he has 10 home runs. He and Barry Bonds are the early leaders for NL MVP; I'd pick Larry over Barry at this point.

Kelly Andrew Johnson

age: 25
bats: left

0.323 -- 0.466 -- 0.591

I thought maybe Orlando Thill Hudson was having the best year of an NL second baseman so far, but that honor belongs to this guy. ( Chase Utley is also in this conversation, Kent is fourth. ) He's come out of nowhere, seemingly. He lost all of 2006 to elbow surgery; he showed promise in half a year of playing time in 2005 but was nowhere near his current numbers. He has no weaknesses in his splits so far. Kelly's emergence is one reason for the Braves resurgence this year.

Andruw Rudolf Jones

age: 30
bats: right

0.253 -- 0.392 -- 0.505

Rudolf? Really, that's his middle name? Why not Ruwdolf, though?

Man, if he could just get that batting average up to 0.300, he'd really be a monster. But he's never been a high average hitter. He's batted in the 0.260's the past three seasons, and I expect him to settle in there again this year. He's only batted above 0.300 once in his career.

I would suggest the Dodger pitchers should challenge him, not walk him, especially if no one is on base. Wolf and Lowe have done well against Andruw, while Tomko has not. They need to keep the ball down or in on him; he may also be susceptible to chasing the very high fastball. He's always been a strikeout hitter.

Edgar Enrique Renteria

age: 31
bats: right

0.339 -- 0.403 -- 0.500

If he keeps this up, this will be a career year for him, surpassing even his excellent 2003 season with the Cardinals. Some thought he struggled with Boston in 2005, but those numbers weren't too out of line with his career numbers. Make no mistake, these are very good numbers so far, but he has to be viewed as the weak point at the top of the order.

This year and historically he takes a big hit against right-handed pitching. Tomko and Lowe better hold him to O-fers to keep him off the bases in front of the Joneses; against Smoltz and Hudson the Dodger pitching has to be excellent.

Brian Michael McCann

age: 23
bats: left

0.298 -- 0.355 -- 0.476

The big news is that he's carrying a finger injury; he could be back in the lineup by tonight's opener, though.

This guy is a super-duper-star; he and Russ Martin should battle for starting NL catcher all-star honors for years to come, unless McCann just completely pulls ahead. As good as Russ is that's possible. McCann's stats this year are down a bit from last year, possibly in part because of his various hand injuries so far. He had an OPS of 0.900 before his first hand injury in late April; his OPS the last 7 days is less than 0.500.

Jeffrey Braden Francoeur

age: 23
bats: right

0.311 -- 0.368 -- 0.528

He's drawn 9 walks so far this year, after only 23 last year. So perhaps he's developed better plate discipline. If so then he'll become more than just the home run hitting out-machine he was last year. Even if he does have better plate discipline, the Dodgers should pitch him anywhere but near the heart of the plate. Aim for the corners every time, or even off the corner.

He's the most intriguing Brave because of the walks thing, but I just don't know what to make of it. Only time will tell.

Scott Robert Thorman

age: 25
bats: left

0.281 -- 0.328 -- 0.509

He's the lefty half of the Braves first base platoon. Given all the other thunder in the Braves lineup, the Dodgers can't let this guy beat them. If Lowe and Tomko keep the ball down they should be okay, even though he's a lefty.

Craig Alan Wilson

age: 30
bats: right

0.176 -- 0.288 - 0.275

He's the righty half of their first base platoon. He's better than these stats, usually ending a season with a plus 0.800 OPS. The plate discipline is there, and at the end of the season he could well end up being the better half of the first base platoon. But not right now. I wonder if he misses Jim Tracy?

Matthew Edward Diaz

age: 29
bats: right

0.259 -- 0.267 -- 0.397

If the Braves could get themselves a real left fielder they'd be a fearsome offensive team. As it is they have the luxury of having as offensive weakness the two easiest positions to upgrade, left field and first base. Langerhans was the other half of this platoon, but he was awful, and traded away. Now William Charles Harris is the other half of the left field platoon, but he hasn't played enough to get his own capsule. Diaz doesn't get his own capsule either, really, since I haven't even mentioned him at all. That's the way left field for the Braves has gone so far.

John Andrew Smoltz

age: 39
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.96 -- 38.2 -- 30 -- 13 -- 4

He's now had two full seasons of being a starter again after his four year stretch as a dominant closer. He's still a very good pitcher, and will be a tough test for the Dodgers on Friday.

He lives down and away to both lefties and righties. The Dodger hitters have to lay off the down and away pitch. I can see Juan Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra swinging at a first pitch low and away fastball and pulling a feeble grounder for an easy out. I think it's best to lay off this pitch even if it's a strike early in the count.

Timothy Adam Hudson

age: 31
throws: right

1.40 -- 45.0 -- 32 -- 12 -- 1

Smoltz does better on strikeouts, while Hudson has a slight edge in walks allowed and a huge edge in home runs allowed. I'm not sure that explains Hudson's terrific ERA, though. Hendrikson's ERA is more in line with his stats than Hudson's is! Both of those pitchers' ERAs will rise, of course.

Hudson was not good last year. He gave up a career high 25 home runs; it appears the biggest part of his turnaround this year is choking off the opposition home runs. He's doing this in part by posting the best grounder to fly ratio of his career, though it's still only 2.7. He's also getting a lot of double plays: he's on pace for about 35.

He's not this good, but I fear the Dodgers won't do much against him on Saturday. They'll need to be lucky and clutch, or just lucky and lucky for those who don't believe in clutch hitting.

Hiram Kyle Davies

age: 23
throws: right

6.75 -- 20.0 -- 17 -- 16 -- 4

Oh boy! Finally a bad pitcher. No wonder he goes by his middle name, since his first name is as ugly as his ERA. Apologies to any Hirams out there reading this. Are you out there, Hiram Bocachica?

Kyle stunk as a starter last year and the year before, too. When will you learn, Braves? He's young, so maybe he's a prospect type; I'm not motivated enough at this point to look that up. But if he is a prospect, it's the Edwin Jackson type. The Dodgers better chase Kyle by the fifth inning, they may need to if Wolf deposits another steamer. Kyle has made four starts, and been lifted after the fourth in the last two.

Okay, I did check up on Davies. Hardball times had Davies as their 37th ranked prospect in 2005. So much for that ... so far. As always, only time will tell.

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