Braves Series Preview: Peter Hjort

The Phillies are looking towards the Atlanta Braves after winning their last two series, taking two of three from the New York Mets and three of four from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phils have received great starting pitching as Cole Hamels flirted with a complete game shut-out (before a nitwit ran onto the field), Kyle Kendrick tossed seven shut-out innings, and Roy Halladay held the likes of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Colby Rasmus at bay in seven innings yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Braves are headed in the opposite direction. After a nine-game losing streak, they swept the Houston Astros but recently lost two of three to the surprisingly upstart Washington Nationals. The only reliable offense has come from Jason Heyward; Chipper Jones has a .400 OBP but his SLG is 15 points below that mark. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson have been the only reliable starters. While the bullpen has been lights-out as expected, the Braves haven’t been able to get to Billy Wagner with a lead very often — he has only racked up three saves.

The starting pitching match-ups for the series:

  • Derek Lowe vs. Jamie Moyer
  • Kris Medlen vs. Joe Blanton
  • Kenshin Kawakami vs. Cole Hamels

To know what to expect, I tossed a few questions to fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Peter Hjort of Capitol Avenue Club and Beyond the Box Score.

. . .

The Braves almost got no-hit by Scott Olsen and were recently no-hit by Ubaldo Jimenez. Are you concerned about the offense?

I think they’ll score enough runs to contend.  Some guys aren’t producing, and that’s mostly a function of poor luck on balls in play.  But it’s not a particularly good offense.

Is Chipper Jones simply a singles hitter now? He has a .375 SLG and just 2 HR.

Well, he’s 38 years old and his bat isn’t as quick as it used to be.  I wouldn’t say he’s a singles hitter, he’s still capable of driving the ball.  I don’t think we’ll ever see him post an ISO of .200+ again, though.

The bullpen has performed well as expected. The rotation is another story. After Hanson and Hudson, it seems like Braves fans are praying harder for the back of the rotation than Phillies fans. What do you make of what was perceived to be the Braves’ biggest strength going into the season?

Jurrjens had been a wreck mostly due to injuries.  Lowe and Kawakami have been just awful.  Hudson hasn’t been that good, either–his strikeout and walk rates concern me.  Quite simply, they’re going to need to get more from the rotation.  The guys they have are capable of pitching well, but if they don’t the team better make some changes–they can’t contend with Hanson and 4 below-average starters.  Kris Medlen will make his first start of the season on Saturday and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches well enough to make it impossible for the Braves to move him back to the bullpen when Jurrjens returns.  People easily forget that before they were called up last year, Medlen was decidedly out-pitching Tommy Hanson.

Last Saturday, you used some math to show that the Braves weren’t as bad as they appeared. Do you still buy that?

Of course.  They’re a better team that their record indicates, I knew that before I started writing the article.  All the Base Runs stuff did was demonstrate they’ve also played better than their record.

What can the Braves do to improve the team by August 1? Any other Jason Heywards waiting in AAA?

Well, unfortunately, there’s not another Jason Heyward anywhere.  Their top position player prospect–Freddie Freeman–may eventually get the call to play 1B if Troy Glaus doesn’t turn it around.  Jordan Schafer is rehabbing in Rome right now and once he shows he’s ready, he’ll be the club’s every day center fielder.  They might have to dip into their bag of prospects to acquire a starting pitcher, left fielder, or first baseman in order to stay in the race, though.

. . .

A doff of the cap to Peter for his insight on the Braves. Make sure you stop by Capitol Avenue Club for anything Braves-related. Peter is dealing with the death of his computer, so you may want to stop by and console him.

The Phillies appear to have gotten lucky with the pitching match-ups as they will miss both of the starters, Hudson and Hanson, who are actually producing this year for the Braves. However, Chase Utley is the only Phillie who has hit Derek Lowe with any kind of authority, with a 1.204 OPS in 27 plate appearances. Everyone else has a sub-.625 OPS. The Phillies have hit Kenshin Kawakamhi hard in limited opportunities. Current Phillies have nine hits in 34 total plate appearances against Kris Medlen. Ryan Howard has the only extra-base hit, a home run.

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