Two of the four ten win teams in the National League will do battle this week in Los Angeles, as the Braves continue a west coast road trip against the Dodgers. The Braves have had a more difficult start to their schedule than the Dodgers, though neither teams have exactly played an All-Star schedule. The Braves have played a home and home with the Mets, hosted the Brewers, and visited Houston and Arizona. The Dodgers have played seven (SEVEN!!!) against the Padres, hosted Pittsburgh, and traveled to Milwaukee and Houston.
Atlanta’s offense has completely exploded over the last week, but unlike the Dodgers, they lack a star powering the offense. Despite scoring 23 more runs on the season, the Braves have a team OPS only 21 points higher than the Braves. The Braves only have one regular with an OPS above .900, Jason Heyward at .904. The Dodgers are led by Matt Kemp and his 1.467 OPS, and Andre Ethier and his .923 OPS are helping the team a lot. Kemp has nine homers and Ethier has four, while no Brave has more than three. But while Atlanta doesn’t have a superstar on offense, their only regulars with an OPS below .700 are Dan Uggla at .690 and Tyler Pastornicky at .539. The Dodgers on the other hand, have their own rookie shortstop (Dee Gordon, at .544), James Loney at .690, Juan Rivera at .612, and Juan Uribe at .468. While the Dodgers are more top-heavy in their lineup in comparison to the Braves, Atlanta is more consistent across the board.
The Braves get lucky in this series by missing by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. Chris Capuano starts tonight, Aaron Harang goes on Tuesday, and Ted Lilly starts on Wednesday. By the same token, the Dodgers will miss Tommy Hanson for the Braves, but do need to face both Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. The disappointing Jair Jurrjens starts for Atlanta on Monday, while Minor goes on Tuesday and Beachy goes on Wednesday. Capuano and Harang have both struggled this season with going deep into games, and walks. The pair has combined to walk 15 hitters in 32 2/3 innings, while having a cumulative ERA a shade under 5.00. They have however, combined for 38 strikeouts, but 13 of those came in one Harang start against the Padres. As for Lilly, he’s been pitching well this season…on the surface. He’s allowed just one run in 13 innings on six hits, but the seven walks and nine strikeouts are rates going the wrong direction. That .176 BABIP and 85.7% strand rate aren’t going to hold long.
As for the Braves starters….two out of three ain’t bad. Jurrjens leads off the series for Atlanta, and has been a disaster in every facet this season. He’s thrown just 13 1/3 innings in three starts this season, allowing five homers, walking nine, and striking out eight, which has led to an ugly 8.10 ERA on the season. He’s been far and away the weak link of the Braves rotation this season. The other two starters have both been solid, with Beachy allowing just one run in 19 1/3 innings, walking six and striking out 14. The strikeout rate seems a little low for him, considering his rate of over a batter per inning last year. Minor has been just as good, striking out 19 while walking just five in 20 1/3 innings. Neither Beachy nor Minor has allowed a homer this season.
Los Angeles has had a solid bullpen this season, led by closer Javy Guerra striking out ten hitters in 8 1/3 innings. Guerra already has seven saves on the year. Josh Lindblom hasn’t allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings, and set-up man Kenley Jansen has struck out an eye-popping 17 hitters in 10 2/3 innings. Atlanta’s bullpen hasn’t been as good as it was last year, but it’s still been rather solid. Jonny Venters has struck out 12 hitters in 6 2/3 innings, but has also walked four hitters. Dominant closer Craig Kimbrel has struck out nine (with five walks) in six innings, while set-up man Eric O’Flaherty has allowed four runs in 4 2/3, striking out four in the process. Aside from Venters and Kimbrel, strikeouts have been a commodity for Atlanta’s bullpen, with the rest of the team’s relievers combining for 22 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings.
I’m going to guess that the Braves win two outta three games in the series, with Jurrjens’ start in the opener being the lone blemish on the team’s success. However, with Capuano starting that game, it’s conceivable for the Braves to tack enough runs onto the board to overcome Jurrjens’ struggles this year. Things are about to get a lot more real for the Dodgers, starting with this series.