Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Blue Jays at Braves

Coming off a great three-game sweep of the Marlins in Miami, the Braves return home to host the Toronto Blue Jays for three days.  Much like the NL East, the AL East is bunched tightly, with all the teams above .500 this year.  Overall, the Blue Jays have not had a single strong skill as a team, maintaining average performance in all main areas.  The main thing working in the Braves favor is the fact that they are facing two of Toronto’s starters that are struggling this year.

Game 1 – Kyle Drabek vs. Brandon Beachy – Friday 7:35 EDT

Opening the series, two very different style pitchers square off.  Beachy has struggled a bit lately with control, but has managed to limit the damage his past couple starts.  Drabek has been all over the place the whole year, walking 15% of batters faced, nearly six per nine innings.  While he has a live arm with great groundball rates, he only strikes out 17% of hitters, just below average, and has allowed 9 HR in 62 IP.  His 5.46 FIP is ugly, but he’s only allowed a .256 BABIP, leaving his ERA at a manageable 4.35.  As long as Atlanta takes their walks, runs should be plentiful tonight.

Game 2 – Drew Hutchison vs. Tommy Hanson – Saturday 4:05 EDT

Surprisingly consistent (outside the St. Louis game), Hanson has had an average season so far, not showing many flashes of brilliance.  Hutchison has posted almost exactly average peripherals, leading to a 4.35 ERA and 4.28 FIP.  He’s thrown about 75% fastballs this year, 50% being a 90-94 MPH four-seamer and 25% a 89-93 MPH two-seamer/sinker.  His slider has decent break at 82-86 MPH, with a similar skilled changeup at the same speed.  A lot of the Braves should enjoy the steady diet of fastballs, leading to a good chance for 5+ runs.

Game 3 – Ricky Romero vs. Tim Hudson – Sunday 1:35 EDT

After his Tuesday shutout, Hudson returns to the mound to anchor the series, hoping to continue keeping the ball in the park and in the fielders’ gloves.  Romero has struggled in the same categories as Drabek, though not as severely.  The lefty is walking 12% of hitters this year, compared to 9% the last two years.  He is also allowing 1.67 HR/9, over 50% more than expected.  His 55% GB rate is at career average, while a .231 BABIP allowed has kept his ERA (4.02) three-quarters of a run below his FIP.  This should be the toughest game, combining the fact that Romero is left-handed and has the best track record.

Offensively, the Blue Jays have a balanced skillset, much different than their swinging from the heels approach of two years ago.  At the moment, most of their power is right-handed, with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista at 17 and 15 HR respectively, as well as J.P. Arencibia with 9 HR.  The two lefty presences for Toronto are Colby Rasmus and our old friend Kelly Johnson, both of whom are hitting a bit above average.

Their left side of the infield is struggling offensively.  Yunel Escobar has been beating the ball into the ground, leaving him with a .257/.310/.341 slashline.  Brett Lawrie had a stellar debut last year, but the power and walks have faded this year, leaving him at .281/.318/.381.  Their starting spots are still more than warranted due to their tremendous defense, combining to save around 11 runs so far this year according to UZR, while DRS has Lawrie at +24 this year, which is beyond plausible.

The series looks to be a good chance for another series win, especially with the Top 3 starters going for the Braves.  The Blue Jays will have a chance if they can find the bleachers, but the Braves have the advantage everywhere else.

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