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Phillies Vs. Braves: Braves Host Scorching Phillies In Home Opening Weekend

Following a tough 3-4 road trip to start the season, the Braves are heading home to host the Phillies in a big three-game series to open the home schedule in 2011.

The Braves took two of three from the Nationals in the opening series of the season, but after taking the first game of the series against the Brewers, Milwaukee came back with three straight wins to drop the Braves to 3-4.

The Phillies have started the season on a high note by going 5-1. They swept the Astros in the opening series of the season, followed by two of three from the Mets, including a 11-0 win Thursday. They have scored at least nine runs in three of the six games they've played.

Friday, April 8 - 7:35 (Peachtree TV/Fox Sports South)
Cliff Lee (2010: 212.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 0.76 BB/9, 7.84 K/9, 41.9 GB%, 8.2 SwStr%)
(63.6 FB%, 19.8 CT%, 9.4 CH%, 5.6 CB%, 1.6 SL%; 51.5 Swing%, 84.1 Contact%)
Tim Hudson (2010: 228.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, 2.91 BB/9, 5.47 K/9, 64.1 GB%, 6.8 SwStr%)
(56 GB%, 15.5 CT%, 13.1 SF%, 7.1 SL%, 4.8 CB%, 3.6 CH%; 43.2 Swing%, 91.4 Contact%)

Cliff Lee sailed through his first start of 2011 against the Astros, allowing three runs on four hits in seven innings, not walking any and striking out 11. It was a characteristic outing for Lee, who recorded an insane walk rate last season and holds a career mark of 2.22 BB/9. He had the best season of his career in 2010, posting career-best numbers in ERA, FIP, xFIP and K/BB. The Braves know what to expect with Lee, but he did show something different in his season debut against Houston. He threw only 44% fastballs compared to 31% cutters, which is a significant difference from years past. Whether that continues remains to be seen, but it's something to keep an eye on for right-handers.

Tim Hudson continued his dominance of the Nationals in his season debut with seven innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits, one walk and striking out five. Hudson is coming off one of his best seasons in Atlanta and is seeking a repeat year,and a big step toward that is good starts against the Phillies. Like Lee, Hudson threw more cutters in his first start, as well as more splitters. He didn't post the insane groundball rate of last season, but it was one start.

Saturday, April 9 - 1:10 (FOX)
Roy Oswalt (2010: 211.2 IP, 2.76 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 2.34 BB/9, 8.21 K/9, 45.7 GB%, 9.7 SwStr%)
(55.4 FB%, 15.1 CH%, 14.8 SL%, 14.7 CB%; 47.5 Swing%, 79.1 Contact%)
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)

Roy Oswalt posted the best K/9 of his career last season at 8.21 K/9, and he kept the BB/9 low at 2.34 BB/9. The reason for the increase in strikeouts was an increase in whiff rate and decrease in contact rate. Much of this came from a huge jump in the value of his changeup. He threw the pitch 15% of the time last season, which was a big increase from 6% the previous year, and was worth 7.1 runs above average. This, combined with a jump in value for all of his pitches across the board, led to the increase in strikeouts. A lot of Oswalt's success could also be attributed to a .253 BABIP due to a 17.6 line drive rate. It is unlikely that this is sustainable.

Beachy shut down the Brewers over six innings, allowing one run on four hits, walking one and striking out seven. His outing seemed to get better as he went on, striking out five of his seven in the last few innings. Beachy had great command of his fastball, picking apart several Brewer hitters with the pitch, and he kept hitters honest with the curveball in the later innings.Two of Beachy's four career starts are against the Phillies. He allowed three runs in 4.1 innings in his major league debut last year, and his second start against them on Oct. 1 was four runs in 5.2 innings.

Sunday, April 10 - 1:35 (Fox Sports South)
Cole Hamels (2010: 208.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 2.63 BB/9, 9.1 K/9, 45.4 GB%, 11.9 SwStr%)
(54.4 FB%, 25 CT%, 19.1 CH%, 1.5 CB%; 36.8 Swing%, 80 Contact%)
Derek Lowe (11.2 IP, 0.77 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 2.66 xFIP, 3.86 BB/9, 10.03 K/9, 58.8 GB%, 8.2 SwStr%)
(46.2 FB%, 30.7 SL%, 17.5 CH%, 5.7 CT%; 40 Swing%, 76.2 Contact%)

Cole Hamels had the second worst start of his career in his season debut against the Mets, allowing six runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings. If anything, it kept Hamels fresh for his second start as he threw only 68 pitches. He is coming off a solid 2010 season in which he returned to 200+ innings with a 9.1 K/9, his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season. Hamels has almost completely ditched the curveball and continues to back off the changeup, but he is throwing the same number of fastballs and a considerable amount of cutters. His confidence in the cutter seems to be growing with every start.

Derek Lowe continues to post career-best strikeout numbers through two starts due to a major increase in slider counts. His 30.7% slider count is up from 16.1% last season, though the plan to throw more sliders began last September. Lowe has been a completely different pitcher so far this season and looks to keep it going against the Phillies.

With Brad Lidge out until around the All-Star break, the Phillies bullpen has been turned over to Jose Contreras to lead. Ryan Madson, Danys Baez and Antonio Bastardo have combined for 8.2 scoreless innings in relief. J.C. Romero remains the LOOGY, allowing one run in two innings.

Projected Phillies Lineup:
1. Shane Victorino, CF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Jimmy Rollins, SS
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Raul Ibanez, LF
6. Ben Francisco, RF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Wilson Valdez, 2B

The absence of Chase Utley is apparent, but the Phillies offense hasn't missed a beat so far. With Utley out, the lefty presence in the middle of the order isn't quite as big, especially with the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins hitting third. The lineup remains solid throughout, though Wilson Valdez in the eight hole is a bit of a weak spot.

For more on the series, Braves fans check out Talking Chop and Phillies fans check out The Good Phight.

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