Braves Series Preview with Peter Hjort

Would that this series actually mean anything, but as the Playoff Odds Report on Baseball Prospectus indicates, both teams are near-locks for the post-season. Alas, this series is rote for both teams. Still, it is a potential NLCS preview, so there is opportunity for meaningful reconnaissance. I grabbed ESPN Sweet Spot Braves blogger Peter Hjort to speak about the current state of the Braves as they look towards October. Over at Capitol Avenue, you can read my take on the Phillies.

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1. Both the Phillies and Braves are virtual playoff locks. Since division rivals can’t play each other in the NLDS, which team do you fear more, the Brewers or D-Backs?

The Brewers and it’s not even close. Milwaukee’s team xFIP is right behind that of Philadelphia and Atlanta and their offense is one of the best in the league. Arizona’s offense and pitching staff aren’t in the same category as that of Milwaukee. I consider Arizona to be the weakest of the contenders.

2. The Braves have been bitten in the injury bug, particular with regard to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Recently, though, I saw you tweet that that didn’t worry you. How come?

Depth. If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson don’t throw another pitch this season Atlanta can take Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor to the postseason with Randall Delgado in the bullpen as the long man and Julio Teheran waiting around in case a starter gets injured. I feel really good about that group. I’d rather have Hanson in the rotation, but I’d probably rather have Minor than Jurrjens, to be honest.

3. How is former Phillie Michael Bourn working out for you?

Very well. He hasn’t been an automatic out at the plate and has been a plus defender in center field. You couldn’t say the same thing about any of the other center fielders Atlanta has employed since Andruw Jones left. He’s been a good addition.

4. Dan Uggla was abysmal all season, but went on that lengthy hitting streak and he’s continued to hit since it ended. What was Uggla doing wrong earlier, and what did he change (if anything) to improve?

I think initially it was an approach thing, where he was trying to trade quality contact for quantity contact. He’s been striking out more since his hitting streak started, which is a good thing for a hitter like him. The key for Uggla is hitting the ball hard and far, not making tons of contact. While the approach thing was primarily responsible, after awhile the slump probably got in his head and the problem became a three-headed monster: approach, mechanics, and confidence.

5. While the rest of September is mostly meaningless, what or who are you going to be keeping an eye in in the remaining four weeks?

Because of the amount of pitching depth the Braves have, it seems like there are only four or five pitchers with a guaranteed postseason roster spot: Tim Hudson, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and possibly Derek Lowe. The other 6-7 spots are still TBD, and they’ll be decided by health and performance down the stretch. In short, I’m watching all of the pitchers.

6. Do you consider this series a must-win, or important at all?

Completely meaningless.

7. The pitching match-ups will be Lowe/Lee, Hudson/Worley, and Beachy/Oswalt. How do you see the series playing out?

You can’t predict baseball!

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Thanks, as always, to Peter for taking some time to speak about his team for us. Be sure to drop by Capitol Avenue Club to see what I had to say about the Phillies, as well as for Braves-related news and analysis as the series — and the season — moves on. If you’re on Twitter, I highly recommend following Peter (@CapitolAvenue) as his mix of intelligent analysis and humor will keep you informed and entertained.