6/11-6/13 Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

Fan Confidence Poll: June 11th, 2012
The RAB Radio Show: June 11th, 2012
The Braves retired #29 this weekend. (REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

The last time the Yankees visited Atlanta, Brian Cashman took a trip down to visit a team that was struggling to score runs and had lost five of their previous six games. Frankie Cervelli responded with a big solo homer and Cashman’s club went on a major second half run that resulted in a World Championship. Thankfully, the Yankees don’t need that kind of wake-up call at the moment.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Braves have been quite streaky of late, losing eight in a row at the end of May before following it up with eight wins in their last ten games. They lost yesterday but took two of three against the Blue Jays this weekend. Overall, the Braves are 34-26 with a +31 run differential, he third and fourth best marks in the NL, respectively.


(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

At 4.80 runs per game, the Braves are a top-five offense in baseball. Their 288 total runs are the third most in the NL and seventh most overall. The Yankees are seven runs back of Atlanta, though they have played one fewer game. It all starts at the top of the lineup with Michael Bourn (132 wRC+) and Martin Prado (140 wRC+), the best one-two lineup combination in baseball this season. The former has already set a career-high in homers (six) while the latter has set a career-high in steals (seven).

Brian McCann (95 wRC+) is having a down year by his standards but remains incredibly dangerous. Chipper Jones (132 wRC+) just returned from his latest DL stint, and those two tend to rotate in the three-hole. Dan Uggla (136 wRC+) pumps out 30+ homer seasons like clockwork (11 already this year) and handles cleanup duties. Youngsters Freddie Freeman (102 wRC+) and Jason Heyward (113 wRC+) add left-handed depth, so expect to see a lot of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada these next few days. Andrelton Simmons recently took over as the everyday shortstop and owns a 98 wRC+ in eight games.

Atlanta boasts a very strong bench/supporting cast, led by the best backup catcher in baseball: David Ross (111 wRC+). He gave McCann a rest yesterday and with three night games on the schedule, we might not see him this series. Juan Francisco (93 wRC+ vs. RHP) is the thump from the left side, Matt Diaz (130 wRC+) the thump from the right side. Former Yankee Eric Hinske is off to a slow start (69 wRC+ vs. RHP) but can still go deep at any time. Jack Wilson (-5 wRC+) is both the utility infielder and terrible. Here’s pretty much the only guy on the roster you don’t have to worry about.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Randall Delgado
The 46th best prospect in baseball coming into the season according to Baseball America, the 22-year-old Delgado has pitched to a respectable 4.26 ERA (4.07 FIP) in eleven starts so far. His strikeout rates (7.19 K/9 and 18.6 K/9) are solid and his ground ball rate (52.6%) is fantastic, though like most young pitchers he tends to walk a bunch of guys (4.40 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%). Delgado sits in the low-90s with both of his fastballs (two and four-seamer), and his top secondary offering is a low-80s changeup. He’ll also throw an upper-70s curveball on occasion. Although he’s coming off a gem (two hits and one run in 6.1 IP against the Marlins), Delgado has only completed six full innings three times this year.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Mike Minor
Minor looked like one of the best young pitchers in the game in Spring Training, but by fWAR (-0.4) he’s been the second worst pitcher in baseball in the regular season. His 6.57 ERA is backed up by an unsightly 5.51 FIP, mostly because he’s extremely homer prone — 2.00 HR/9. Considering he plays in a pitcher’s park in the NL, that’s pretty terrible. Minor’s strikeout (7.86 K/9 and 19.9 K%) and walk (3.71 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) rates are good enough, though he is a fly ball guy (33.2%). A true four-pitch pitcher, the southpaw will pitch off his low-90s fastball with a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. Minor has recorded more than 15 outs just once in his last six starts. Kinda hard to believe.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Tim Hudson
Fresh off a complete game shutout of the Marlins, Hudson received a cortisone shot to alleviate pain in his left ankle and skipped his previous start. Well, they didn’t really skip it. They just pushed him back three days. The 36-year-old* sinkerballer has pitched very well after spending the first few weeks of the season on the shelf with back problems, posting a 3.83 ERA (3.13 FIP) in eight starts. Hudson is all about getting ground balls (57.4%) and limiting walks (2.50 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%), not striking dudes out (5.17 K/9 and 13.8 K%). His sinker is mostly upper-80s these days, and he’ll also mix in mid-to-high-80s cutters and four-seamers. He’ll throw a curveball roughly once every 12 pitches, but otherwise it’s all fastball. Believe it or not, Hudson hasn’t faced the Yankees since way back in 2006.

* Can you believe Tim Hudson is 36 already? I feel like he just came up with a Athletics. He’s going to be 37 next month. Crazy.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Bullpen Status
Like the pre-injury Yankees, Atlanta’s strength is their lights out bullpen. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel (1.13 FIP) is a strikeout machine (14.48 K/9 and 41.1 K%) in the ninth inning, though setup man Jonny Venters (4.17 FIP) has seen his ground ball rate drop in a big way this year. Of course, it’s still at 56.3% after 72.5% (!) last season. He’s had some homer issues in recent weeks. Middle men Eric O’Flaherty (2.74 FIP vs. LHB) and Cristhian Martinez (1.95 FIP vs. LHB) are both hell on lefties, though the latter is a right-hander. Chad Durbin (5.73 FIP) and Livan Hernandez (4.68 FIP) are the garbage time guys.

The Blue Jays did the Yankees a favor by roughing up rookie right-hander Julio Teheran yesterday, forcing Livan (37 pitches) and Martinez (47 pitches) to make lengthy relief appearances. Durbin threw 19 pitches as well. The Braves demoted Teheran after yesterday’s game and called up right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin (1.72 FIP in Triple-A) for some added bullpen depth. Kimbrel, Venters, and O’Flaherty each had yesterday off but have pitched in three of the last five days. When push comes to shove in the late innings, manager Fredi Gonzalez will have his go-to guys available tonight.

The Yankees are going to need some length out of Nova tonight. Rafael Soriano, Logan, Cory Wade, and Rapada have all pitched in each of the last two games while Cody Eppley has either pitched or warmed up in four straight. Wade and Rapada have appeared in three of four as well. I suspect we’ll see David Phelps make his first appearance in nine days tonight. Hopefully he’s not rusty. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage details. For the latest and greatest on the Braves, we recommend Capitol Avenue Club.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 11th, 2012
The RAB Radio Show: June 11th, 2012
  • DERP

    Kind of nice that we miss Beachy and Hanson.

    • JohnC

      and we’ll miss Strasburg in the Washington series this coming weekend.

      • 28 this year

        This seems like the stark opposite to always facing the best a team has like Halladay always pitching against the Yankees back when he was with the Blue Jays.

  • pat

    Seems like it was only a few weeks ago Tim Hudson was down in A ball getting roughed up by the RiverDogs.

    • Ted Nelson

      He’s fared pretty well in MLB… wouldn’t surprise if he took a similar spring training approach to rehab as Andy did. Didn’t really have anything to prove.

  • Dan 2

    Too bad smoltz didn’t take the weekend off to celebrate his number being retired. He is the #1 Yankee hater behind a mic and yesterday was his worst ever. Guess he and I were watching different games on WTBS.

    • Kramerica Industries

      I thought the Fizz was much worse than Smoltz.

    • Pat D

      Yea, I didn’t listen to him because, as I told my dad yesterday, I’m immune to Kay’s bluster and idiocy. With guys like BuckCarver, the Red Sox crew, Keith Hernandez, Hawk Harrelson, Smoltz and a few others, I am quite sure I could be driven to murder someone if I listened to them too much.

      • PhillyMatt

        Put the tv/computer on mute, works for me every game.

        • Pat D

          I was doing that on Saturday, but my mother was playing a game on her cell phone, therefore not looking at the screen, and so wouldn’t let me keep it muted.

  • CP

    The Blue Jays did the Yankees a favor by roughing up rookie right-hander Julio Teheran yesterday, forcing Livan (37 pitches) and Martinez (47 pitches) to make lengthy relief appearances.

    I don’t think making it less likely the Yankees will see Livan is really doing them a favor.

  • MannyGeee

    I feel like Mike Minor is the kind of pitcher we can make to look like Cy Young. 4 real pitches from a lefty will do it every time. and their pen is nice!

    That said, sweep the leg against the whole NL!

  • Brian

    Going to game two.

  • wow

    Going to tonight’s game. Hoping for a home run barrage and a solid outing from Ivan.

    • JohnC

      Hope they get the game in. TOnight’s forecast in Atlanta not too good.

      • wow

        crap, you’re right.

    • mt

      Agreed – just hoping home run barrage is not by Braves.

  • Pat D

    Here’s what Smoltz is thinking in that picture:

    “I’d still like to ‘thank’ the Yankees for essentially ending my career when they lit me up when I was with the Red Sox. Oh, and for denying me another World Series ring in both 1996 and 1999. I will continue to take my revenge in my new career as a broadcaster by passively-aggressively rooting for whatever team is playing the Yankees, no matter who that team is.”

    • Robinson Tilapia

      i.e. “I wish I was fucking Yankee.”

    • jjyank

      I know Smoltz is an ass in the booth, but I always admired him as a player. In my (fairly limited) baseball consciousness, that mid-90s Braves rotation was the best I’ve seen. Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux, all in their prime. That was pretty cool, strictly from a general baseball fan perspective.

  • Duzzi23

    The Atlanta Braves will always be one of my favorite NL teams. I went to their spring training camp when I was younger and got autographs from Chipper and Andruw Jones plus pictures with Mike Hampton and Jeff Francouer. I loved how they tormented the Mets in the 90s/early 2000s and how we beat them when they were clearly the best team in the NL in 96 and 99. The Smoltz Pettite duel in 96 was one of the most intensely pitched games I’ve ever seen. I hope Nova pitches well tonight and the Yanks take the series.

  • Rooting for U.S. Steel

    Mike (and anyone who has a good rooting in NL baseball):

    Any thoughts as to how Turner field might play for our lineups? The old Fulton County Stadium was a launching pad. How does this one look, especially on a handedness basis?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      It is a pitcher’s park and based on the park factors at StatCorner, it doesn’t seem to favor lefties or righties…


      • Pat D

        But Frankie Cervelli hit a home run there, and that’s all that matters.

      • Rooting for U.S. Steel

        Thank you. It almost seems a waste to pitch CC in a pitcher’s park… would be curious to see how Hughes, for instance, would do.

        Actually, it looks as though left field at Turner is a little more inviting than at YS3. It’s 380 in left center at Turner, compared to 399 at YS3, Blah blah, adjust for warmth and humidity today and tomorrow…

        And then chill out with a cold Dixie (which is actually brewed in New Orleans, not Atlanta) and realize there’s really no profit in overthinking things.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    That picture of Smoltz reminded me of Tommy Smith/John Carlos.

    I wonder what happened to him. His posts were always pretty entertaining.

    • Pat D

      I hate to keep bringing this up, but it would have been absolutely classic to see him respond to Duh Innings a few weeks ago.

      • Manny’s BanWagon

        You can never have enough reinforcements when battling trolls.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    Hey Mike, are you doing a post on acquisitions possibly before the ASB, like Carlos Quentin, Garza, Dominic Brown possibly?

  • The Scheister of Doom

    I’m about to buy tickets for this game, I live 30-45 min from Turner Field I am just hoping it doesn’t get rained out. I’m also off Thursday and thats a mutual day off for both ATL and NY so if it is, I just hope they schedule the make up game for Thursday and not a doubleheader tomorrow or Wed.

  • BK2ATL

    Got tickets to tomorrow (Tues.) night’s game. I get to see CC wheeling and dealing down here. Can’t wait.

  • Rick

    Question: Mike, when you refer to someone as a “true 4 pitch pitcher,” is that merely referring to the fact that he consistently throws 4 different pitches or does it reference the quality of the pitches? I’m assuming the former because his numbers are awful.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Just four distinct pitches that he uses regularly. Has nothing to do with the quality of the pitches.