It was the best of teams. It was the worst of teams. And they will meet over the next three days.
The Braves are on an absolute tear: 18-5 since the All-Star break. Ten in a row at home (40-16 overall – no other team has more than 35). Six wins in nine games vs. the Phillies, including the last three at Citizens Bandbox Park.
Then there’s the Phillies: 4-17 since the break and losers of three in a row (swept by the Nationals). Their run differential is -95. They are 23-38 on the road. They are now Nineteen and a half games out of first place, now being the LOL Mets in fourth place behind Atlanta in the NL East. Virtually every weakness this team had has been exposed this year.
Even when the Phillies have had a glimmer of hope for the future – signing Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez – something bad happens: that signing is said to be on hold due to a medical issue with the pitching elbow of Gonzalez, who might have made an appearance in the majors in September.
How bad are things in Philly? This tweet might sum it up:
@CoreySeidman The Braves have 7 relievers with 11+ appearances and an ERA of 2.50 or lower. The Phillies have 1, and he took PEDs
But with all that, the Phightin’ Phils are in Atlanta, and they’re gonna field a team for the next 3 nights. Here’s how the match-ups go:
Monday: Cole Hamels vs. Julio Teheran
Cole Hamels hasn’t been Cole Hamels this year – 3.81 ERA, 4-13 record (that’s bad, but mostly not his fault). His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and his LOB% is down. His fastball velocity is still good (91-92 on average… actually slightly up over the past 2 seasons). He throws his fastball 54% of the time, a cutter 14%, curve 7% and changeup 25%. More fastballs and cutters this year; fewer of the other two pitches.
Lately, Hamels has been a bit better: no runs in 8 innings vs. San Francisco on the 1st; 2 earned vs. the Cubs on the 7th. In fact, the only hiccup since July started was four earned runs surrendered in five innings vs. the Mets on July 20th. So this should be the best shot Philly has of beating Atlanta in this series.
Except, perhaps for the fact that Teheran is pitching.
Julio Teheran (9-5) is up to 137 innings with a 2.96 ERA, but he’s been even better lately. Since mid-May, he has given up 1 earned run or none ten times in 15 starts. The others went 5, 3, 2, 5, and 3. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio is 4:1. He’s stranding 83% of base runners. He’s getting 41% ground balls. He’s developing into the front-of-the-rotation guy that he was touted to be while still a prospect.
Teheran has not faced the Phillies this year, but they are hardly putting up a fight: 24th in the majors in fWAR, 19th in homers (despite their ballpark), 17th in average and hits, and 24th in runs scored.
Keys to the game:
- Can the Braves generate enough offense to chase Hamels?
- Can Teheran keep Chase Utley and Dominic Brown from beating him (the only true offensive threats in the order)
Tuesday: Ethan Martin vs. Kris Medlen
Ethan Martin was the Phils 8th ranked prospect before getting called up to face Atlanta on August 2nd. During that game, he took the loss despite striking out 6 batters over 4.1 innings… because the Braves rocked him the third time through the lineup… after he escaped in the fourth inning. Okay, but that was his first outing in the majors. Last week in Chicago, he went five innings, giving up just one earned run and getting the win. In both games, he walked three, which fits a pattern of control issues.
Atlanta’s now seen him – and should eat him alive this time. The only question will be whether Kris Medlen continues to struggle. In his past ten outings, he has surrendered 3, 4, 2, 4, 4, 6, 3, 3, 1, and 4 runs. Well, while we’d like to see an improvement there, it may frankly not matter if he can keep the damage down to 3 or 4 runs. In Philly on the 2nd, Medlen yielded 4 earned runs over 6 innings… and won vs. Martin. But they got 7 runs (6 earned) off Medlen on July 7th (both games in Philadelphia).
Wednesday: John Lannan vs. Brandon Beachy
Am I a believer in Beachy? Not quite yet, though outings like his last one are going a long way to getting me there. Thanks to the first start, his ERA is still 5.00, but that’s highly deceptive. On the 3rd (yep, in Philly) he gave up 4 runs (3 earned). On the 9th, Miami got nothing. 8 innings, 3 hits, 6 K, 1 walk, no runs. That’s pretty remarkable, given his still-recent comeback from surgery.
Am I a hater of John Lannan? Yeah. It’s not personal. It’s competitive. In his career, Lannan is 9-5 vs. Atlanta in 17 games, with a 3.24 ERA. The most wins he has against any other team is five. His career record is 45-57. His career ERA is 4.08. The Nationals didn’t want him in the majors last year… unless the Braves came to town.
This year? He’s still mediocre: 3-5 with a 4.81 and 4.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 3 walks per nine. So of course he’s gonna become Cy Young on Wednesday night at Waffle House Field. The good news? This new Braves lineup (with two Uptons, Evan Gattis, and Chris Johnson – none of whom care about the past vs. Lannan) hit him for 4 runs – though 2 earned into the fifth inning last week. Lannan got away without a decision since the Phils bullpen did their usual thing and the Braves sneaked out with a 5-4 win in twelve innings.
The Braves offense has had a resurgence. When Jason Heyward leads off, his OBP is .466. Justin is hitting. Johnson and Freeman are still hitting. That’s usually enough, and it was good enough for 15 runs in Philly in their last series. Tonight will be the toughest test, but Hamels is vulnerable this year.
There are two lefty-pitchers involved in this series for Philadelphia, and Atlanta traditionally struggles vs. southpaws. Their team batting average is 8 points lower (.248 vs. 256) vs. LHP, and their team OPS is quite a bit lower (.716 vs. 749). That said, their batting advantage over Philadelphia is significant: eight batters rated at 1.0 WAR or better. Philly has two. Get those two guys out, and the rest will take care of itself.
On paper, this is a sweep. The unstoppable force vs. the highly moveable object. But as with everything, the Braves have to stay focused and bring it. the Hamels game will be tough, and the Lannan game will be a coin flip. Anything less than 2 out of 3 will be a disappointment, for these are the games that the Braves need to take in order to secure that best NL record for the playoffs.
An Aside: Charlie Manual’s next managerial win will be his 1,000th. Of course he’s also been at 999 since last Thursday evening. And the Phils have lost their last 12 road games. Go Bravos.
You can purchase Braves tickets from Go Tickets for this entire series, as well as all remaining home games during August and September. Hopefully the brooms will be out for Beachy’s start Wednesday against Lannan!