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Braves Vs. Brewers: Atlanta, Milwaukee Coming Off Opposite Ends Of Routs

The Atlanta Braves continue their season-opening road trip with a four-game set in Milwaukee against a revamped Brewers team.

The Braves are coming off a series win against the Nationals in Washington that opened the season. Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward stole the show in the opener for a 2-0 win. The Nationals came back with a 6-3 win in the second game behind a strong showing by John Lannan. However, the Braves put the series away in dominating fashion with a 11-2 win in Sunday's game, giving the team added momentum coming into Milwaukee.

The Brewers put themselves on the map this offseason with the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. They figure to be in the thick of the NL Central race down the stretch, and with a lack of strength in the division, there's no reason why they shouldn't be there. An early setback, however, was the loss of Greinke to a rib fracture, costing him several weeks.

The Brewers are coming off the losing end of a sweep by the Reds in their season-opening series. A demoralizing ninth-inning loss on Opening Day set the tone for two more losses, including a 12-3 defeat Sunday.

Monday, April 4 - 2:10 (SportSouth)
Brandon Beachy (2010: AA: 74.1 IP, 1.45 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 2.66 BB/9, 12.11 K/9)
(AAA: 45.2 IP, 2.17 ERA, 2.19 FIP, 1.18 BB/9, 9.46 K/9)
(MLB: 15 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 4.20 BB/9, 9 K/9)
Chris Narveson (2010: 167.2 IP, 4.99 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, 3.17 BB/9, 7.35 K/9, 39.8 GB%, 8.1 SwStr%)
(45.8 FB%, 21.3 CH%, 19.3 CB%, 13.5 SL%; 44.1 Swing%, 81.3 Contact%)

Beachy earned the fifth spot in the rotation due to a combination of a strong spring and the Braves' feeling that he can provide an equal amount of value as Mike Minor for the time being. He certainly proved his worth during a well-documented 2010 season, progressing from AA to the majors with little stopping him. He should enjoy his time in the Braves rotation while he can.

Narveson had a better 2010 than the ERA shows. He posted a much better groundball rate than he normally does, though it still wasn't exactly great. His line drive and fly ball percentages were down. He got relatively the same amount of whiffs as usual. The FIP was a mirror image of his 2009 number. However, the one slight against Narveson was a huge increase in outside contact percentage. This is probably due to him throwing a lot more changeups and sliders, neither of which fared well for Narveson last season. Look for him to throw a pretty even mix of pitches, as evident by the pitch percentages above.

Tuesday, April 5 - 8:10 (Fox Sports South)
Derek Lowe (2010: 193.2 IP, 4.00 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, 2.83 BB/9, 6.32 K/9, 58.8 GB%, 8.2 SwStr%)
(63.9 FB%, 16.1 SL%, 15.5 CH%, 4.5 CT%; 43.6 Swing%, 80.3 Contact%)
Yovani Gallardo (2010: 185 IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 3.65 BB/9, 9.73 K/9, 43 GB%, 8.4 SwStr%)
(58.3 FB%, 20.4 CB%, 17.5 SL%, 3.8 CH%; 40.8 Swing%, 78.8 Contact%)

Lowe got off on the right foot in 2011, shutting down the Nationals over 5.2 innings, allowing no runs and three hits while walking two and striking out six. Lowe threw far more sliders than normal in his first start, which seems to be a pattern from his work last September. Look to see if it continues in this start.

Gallardo allowed two runs on seven hits in six innings against the Reds in their season opener. He threw more curveballs than sliders last season, although the slider gave him more success. Perhaps he has learned, because he threw far more sliders in his first start of 2011. Both pitches are solid and give Gallardo outs, while his fastball has spotty control at times, sitting in the low-90s. The 25-year-old always seems to pitch better than his ERA's indicate, largely due to his high strikeout totals.

Wednesday, April 6 - 8:10 (SportSouth)
Mike Minor (2010: AA: 82 IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 3.51 BB/9, 11.3 K/9)
(AAA: 33.1 IP, 1.89 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 3.24 BB/9, 10 K/9)
(MLB: 40.2 IP, 5.98 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 2.43 BB/9, 9.52 K/9)

Minor wasn't expecting his 2011 debut to come this early after being sent down to AAA for Beachy. However, with the injury to Jair Jurrjens, Minor will receive at least two spot starts in his absence. Minor surprised many in his very successful 2010 campaign, vaulting from AA to the majors quickly. He proved capable of handling the majors in his first couple starts with Atlanta before tiring at the end of the season. His main goal this year should be building durability.

Thursday, April 7 - 1:40 (SportSouth)
Tommy Hanson (2010: 202.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.87 xFIP, 2.49 BB/9, 7.68 K/9, 41.8 GB%, 8.4 SwStr%)
(57 FB%, 28 SL%, 12.3 CB%, 2.7 CH%; 45.4 Swing%, 80.9 Contact%)
Shaun Marcum (2010: 195.1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, 1.98 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 38.4 GB%, 10.9 SwStr%)
(45.1 FB%, 25.8 CH%, 14.7 CT%, 9.3 CB%, 5.1 SL%; 46.7 Swing%, 76.3 Contact%)

Hanson came out flat in his 2011 debut, allowing four runs on five hits in 3.2 innings, walking two and striking out one. His fastball had little life and he couldn't spot it well, resulting in several hard hit balls. His breaking stuff wasn't much better, but the fastball seemed to be the main concern following his bad outing. Watch for Hanson's fastball command and velocity as he tries to rebound.

Marcum was the first piece added to Milwaukee's rotation this winter. He debuted with four runs on four hits in 4.2 innings against the Reds, including five walks and seven strikeouts. The walks are very uncharacteristic of Marcum, who has averaged a 2.85 career BB/9, including a mark below two last season. Marcum relies heavily on a changeup that he throws well, posting a mark of 26 runs above average for the pitch last season. He throws a wide assortment of pitches, but the fastball/changeup combination is the main weapon. Look for better control from him in his second start.

The Brewers bullpen has had its share of struggles through three games. John Axford has allowed four runs to lead that charge. The only relievers yet to allow a run are Sergio Mitre with two scoreless innings, Takashi Saito with one scoreless inning and Zach Braddock with a scoreless third of an inning.

Projected Brewers Lineup:
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Carlos Gomez, CF
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Casey McGehee, 3B
6. Mark Kotsay, RF
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
8. Wil Nieves, C

Weeks broke through with a .368 wOBA and 29 home runs last season, providing a big bat at second base and in the leadoff spot. That quality at the top of the order is almost done away with by the presence of Gomez in the two hole. The three-headed monster of Braun, Fielder and McGehee is where the production ends, as 6-8 are pretty weak bats. Getting past Weeks and 3-5 is the challenge of this lineup.

For more on the series, Braves fans check out Talking Chop and Brewers fans check out Brew Crew Ball.

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