The Braves enter the biggest series of their season so far at the perfect time as they are currently riding a five-game winning streak, including a four-game sweep of the Brewers, and have won 10 of their last 13. They take on the Phillies in hostile Philadelphia territory for a weekend series.
Despite the recent Braves surge, the Phillies remain 4.5 ahead of Atlanta in the NL East at 21-9. Series sweeps tend to do that. They took four straight from the Padres near the end of April and most recently swept the Nationals three straight. They are 11-3 in their last 14 games.
Friday, May 6 - 7:05 (SportSouth)
Derek Lowe (38.2 IP, 3.72 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 2.96 xFIP, 3.03 BB/9, 8.61 K/9, 55.4 GB%, 10 SwStr%)
(46.7 FB%, 27.2 SL%, 15.6 CH%, 10.5 CT%; 39.8 Swing%, 74.5 Contact%)
Cliff Lee (39.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 2.61 xFIP, 1.37 BB/9, 10.07 K/9, 40.4 GB%, 9 SwStr%)
(53.4 FB%, 25 CT%, 12.9 CH%, 8 CB%, 0.7 SL%; 49.8 Swing%, 81.3 Contact%)
Despite allowing four runs in five innings, Lowe responded to his DUI news fairly well in his first start since, striking out five and inducing 10 ground balls against the Cardinals. It was only his second start this season in which he allowed more than two runs, and it was his second shortest appearance, as well. Lowe continues to throw fewer sinkers and more sliders, and the strikeouts remain high. As long as he continues this pace, he will be fine.
You might remember Lee posted the worst performance of his season so far against the Braves back in early April, allowing six runs in only 3.1 innings. His most recent start was one run on eight hits in seven innings against the Mets. He had a season high in walks with two in that start. Lee continues to, and always will post incredible walk rates, but he hasn't been untouchable this season. His contact rates and strikeout rate are up, but he also has an increased line drive rate at 20.2%. Perhaps a big reason is he's throwing more cutters, and if his Braves start was any indication, he didn't show the best command with it, leaving several over the plate. FanGraphs says it has been his worst pitch, as well.
Saturday, May 7 - 7:05 (SportSouth)
Julio Teheran (AAA: 30 IP, 1.80 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 2.4 BB/9, 7.5 K/9)
Kyle Kendrick (13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 6.44 xFIP, 5.54 BB/9, 1.38 K/9, 47.7 GB%, 6.2 SwStr%)
(59.4 FB%, 21.1 CH%, 19.4 CT%; 48.9 Swing%, 86.2 Contact%)
You have no idea how good it feels to type Julio Teheran on a series preview for the first time. Teheran, considered by almost all to be the top pitching prospect in baseball, and certainly the top prospect for the Braves, will be making his major league debut on Saturday as a spot start. This will prevent Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson from starting on short rest. My analysis of Teheran can be found here. Teheran throws a hard, moving fastball with a solid changeup and breaking ball, all with deception from a quirky delivery and release point. This will rival Jason Heyward's debut as one of the most-hyped debuts in Braves history.
Kendrick has been relegated to bullpen duty so far this season, but per Jim Salisbury, he will make a spot start for Roy Oswalt as Oswalt is dealing with back issues and could hit the disabled list. Kendrick has walked eight compared to two strikeouts in 13 innings of relief.
Sunday, May 8 - 8:00 (ESPN
Jair Jurrjens (29.2 IP, 1.52 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, 1.52 BB/9, 5.46 K/9, 52.2 GB%, 7 SwStr%)
(61.6 FB%, 21.2 CH%, 17.2 SL%; 50.5 Swing%, 86.2 Contact%)
Cole Hamels (40.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 2.21 BB/9, 8.85 K/9, 49.5 GB%, 11.1 SwStr%)
(49.4 FB%, 23.6 CH%, 21.2 CT%, 5.7 CB%; 47.2 Swing%, 75.9 Contact%)
Jurrjens is pitching to much more contact this season, leaving some to wonder whether he can sustain such a high level of pitching. It's pretty apparent he won't sustain a 1.52 ERA, but a 1.52 BB/9 compared to a career average of 3.15 leaves some to wonder whether he will blow up eventually. His command has been beyond anything we have seen from Jurrjens, and his ground ball rate has also helped offset such a large increase in contact. Whether it holds up remains to be seen, but the Braves are enjoying it while it lasts.
Hamels went the distance in his last start, allowing one run on five hits in nine innings against the Nationals, walking one and striking out six. After allowing six runs in his first start of the season, Hamels has allowed no more than three runs in any start, including two shutouts and one one-run game. The most notable stat from this is a major drop in home runs allowed, currently sitting at two through 40.2 innings. He pitched seven shutout innings in a win against the Braves in their last series together.
The Phillies are 11th in the National League in bullpen FIP at 3.84, but they are fourth in ERA at 2.84. This might be a little indication that they are due for regression.
Ryan Madson has taken closing duties by default following the injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras. He has allowed one run in 12 innings, and it's pretty fair to say we already knew he could handle the job, it's just the Phillies that didn't. Antonio Bastardo has allowed two runs in 12 innings, including 19 strikeouts. Kyle Kendrick has three runs allowed in 13 innings but eight walks to two strikeouts. FIP at its finest.
Projected Phillies Lineup:
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Shane Victorino, CF
3. Placido Polanco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Ben Francisco, RF
6. Raul Ibanez, LF
7. Wilson Valdez, 2B
8. Brian Schneider, C
Injuries have ravaged this bunch some, yet they still sit fourth in the league in wOBA at .325. Rollins has hit leadoff for the past three days, probably due to Polanco's .375/.418/.483 mark with 21 RBI. Also probably due to Rollins having a .380 OBP and 17 walks. Despite being shifted around, the top of the Phillies order continues to carry this offense.