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Cardinals Vs. Braves: Atlanta Welcomes Mighty St. Louis Offense To Turner Field For Three Games

With troubling news surrounding the team seemingly every day now, the Braves head home from a long West Coast trip to host the Cardinals and Brewers at Turner Field, beginning with a three-game series against St. Louis.

Following a series win over the Padres to end the trip, the Braves sit at 13-13, marking the first time they've been .500 since April 8. They ended the road trip at 6-4. They have moved to third in the East, a half game behind the Marlins and four games behind the Phillies.

The Cardinals have cruised to a 14-11 record, good for first in the Central. They haven't lost a series since early April against the Giants, and their most recent was two out of three over the Astros.

Friday, April 29 - 7:35 (Peachtree TV/Fox Sports South)
Chris Carpenter (30 IP, 3.90 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 2.4 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 48.3 GB%, 8.7 SwStr%)
(51.5 FB%, 23.2 CB%, 21.1 SL%, 4.1 CH%; 43.3 Swing%, 79 Contact%)
vs.
Tim Hudson (35.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 1.27 BB/9, 4.33 K/9, 61.3 GB%, 6.8 SwStr%)
(59.7 FB%, 17.3 SL%, 11.6 SF%, 4.3 CH%, 3.9 CT%, 3.2 CB%; 50.1 Swing%, 86.4 Contact%)

The Cardinals have yet to win a game that Carpenter has started. Despite this, Carpenter has allowed just two runs over his last 13 innings with three walks and 12 strikeouts. His numbers have suffered due to one terrible start in which he allowed eight runs in four innings to the Diamondbacks. His strikeouts are up and his ground balls are down, which may have something to do with a decrease in curveballs thrown despite it being his best pitch last year. It may also have something to do with an increase in line drives. Even so, Carpenter remains a frontline starter.

Hudson's bad luck finally relieved itself in his last outing against the Giants, allowing two runs on nine hits in 8.2 innings, not walking any and striking out four. He induced 17 ground balls to 13 fly balls, and while the latter is fairly high for him, the ground ball rate remains very solid. Hudson continues to produce one of the best ground ball rates in the league.

Saturday, April 30 - 1:10 (FOX)
Jake Westbrook (24.1 IP, 7.40 ERA, 5.56 FIP, 4.92 xFIP, 5.92 BB/9, 4.81 K/9, 61.4 GB%, 8.2 SwStr%)
(61.8 FB%, 15.6 CT%, 11.4 CH%, 11.2 SL%; 44.5 Swing%, 81.4 Contact%)
vs.
Brandon Beachy (29.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.36 xFIP, 2.76 BB/9, 9.51 K/9, 32 GB%, 10 SwStr%)
(62.9 FB%, 16.6 SL%, 11.3 CB%, 9.2 CH%; 45.4 Swing%, 77.1 Contact%)

Westbrook has been bombed on more than one occasion this season, allowing eight runs and seven runs in two of the starts, and his longest outing has been six innings. His most recent outing was his best to date, pitching six shutout innings on three hits against the Reds. Westbrook has walked more than he's struck out, but his ground ball rate is one of the best of his career so far and his line drive rate is down to 15%. He is throwing more cutters and fewer sliders even though the slider was his best pitch last season. But his cutter has been his best so far this season.

After consecutive rough outings, Beachy has responded with consecutive solid outings against the Dodgers and Giants, allowing a total of two runs in 12 innings with 14 strikeouts. After command concerns following a four-walk performance, he has walked just two in his last 12 innings, including none in his most recent outing. Beachy can only work well when he keeps the walks very low and the strikeouts pretty high, and that has resulted in two very solid outings.

Sunday, May 1 - 1:35 (Fox Sports South)
Jaime Garcia (30.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 2.64 xFIP, 2.67 BB/9, 8.9 K/9, 60.5 GB%, 12.2 SwStr%)
(54.9 FB%, 19.4 CT%, 19.2 CH%, 6.5 CB%; 46.6 Swing%, 73.6 Contact%)
vs.
Derek Lowe (33.2 IP, 3.21 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 3.03 xFIP, 2.94 BB/9, 8.55 K/9, 54.1 GB%, 10.4 SwStr%)
(46.5 FB%, 26.9 SL%, 16.7 CH%, 9.9 CT%; 39.8 Swing%, 73.6 Contact%)

The left-handed Garcia finished third in Rookie of the Year voting last season behind Buster Posey and Jason Heyward. If not for such a loaded class, he could have easily won the award. He's doing even better so far this season, allowing no more than four runs or three earned runs in any start and allowing just one earned run in two of them. But the biggest improvement is the walk and strikeout rates, both of which have jumped in the right direction dramatically. His ground ball and home run rates have also improved. Garcia's cutter/changeup combination can shut down an offense.

Things are up in the air regarding Lowe's status following his arrest on a DUI Thursday. Whether this has any effect on his preparation or performance remains to be seen, but the Braves are surely hoping it doesn't. He had one of his best outings this season last time out against the Padres, allowing two runs in six innings while striking out eight. The GB/FB numbers remain a little troublesome, but Lowe seems to be focusing on strikeouts more than grounders at this point. He continues to throw a large number of sliders and with plenty success.

Cardinals Bullpen:
Mitchell Boggs leads the bullpen with three saves and three runs allowed in 12.2 innings. This came after Ryan Franklin was booted from the closer's role following nine runs allowed in eight innings of work. Fernando Salas has allowed one run in eight innings, and Eduardo Sanchez has allowed two runs in eight innings. Miguel Batista has been lucky in long relief, allowing one run in 11 innings despite seven walks to five strikeouts with 12 hits.

Projected Cardinals Lineup:
1. Ryan Theriot, SS
2. Colby Rasmus, CF
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Matt Holliday, LF
5. Lance Berkman, RF
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Tyler Greene, 2B
8. David Freese, 3B

Theriot is expected back in the lineup this weekend following a rib cage injury this week. We all know the power that Pujols and Holliday bring to the middle of the order, but the Cardinals have suffered in the past due to no depth around them. The addition of Berkman has changed that, as well as the emergence of Freese and Rasmus.

For more on the series, Braves fans check out Talking Chop and Cardinals fans check out Viva El Birdos.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.