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Braves Vs. Rockies: Atlanta Travels West To Face Struggling Rockies

The series played in the two weeks following the All-Star Break are some of the most important and crucial games of the season.

While they do not typically stand out as a turning point in a season, these games are the ones that shift the team's focus for the second half. Play well in those two weeks and gain some ground in the playoff chase and suddenly the club becomes buyers at the trade deadline as they attempt to reach October baseball. Start off slow and struggle and the team and their fans run the risk of losing hope and fading away as the dog days of summer role around.

For the Atlanta Braves, they have that chance to send the Rockies off into the distance with a big series in Colorado. The two teams will play four games and a series victory will be crucial for both clubs. For Atlanta, they're looking to establish themselves as the best team in the National League and increase their lead in the wild card race all while attempting to catch the Phillies in the division. For Colorado, it's all about staying within striking distance of the teams ahead of them. Their players know it's time to turn it on, and this series will not be easy for the Braves.

Let's take a look at the Rockies, who are currently 45-50 and in third place in the NL West...

Offense:

Not too much has changed with Colorado since coming to Atlanta just a few weeks ago. Both of the Rockies stars, Troy Tulowitzki (.272/.340/.496, 119 wRC+) and Carlos Gonzalez (.291/.357/.486, 125 wRC+) are back in the lineup after missing nearly all of the previous series against the Braves. Todd Helton (.324/.401/.493, 137 wRC+) continues his magical season after so many had written him off and Mark Ellis (.307/.357/.577, 152 wRC+) still hasn't stopped hitting since coming over from Oakland. Seth Smith (.292/.345/.491, 113 wRC+) continues to be the solid, underrated player that he has been the last two years.

Chris Iannetta (.219/.372/.411, 113 wRC+) and his wonky ability to strikeout or walk in nearly 42 percent of his at-bats will play behind the plate and Ty Wigginton (.252/.312/.465, 108 wRC+) has continued his strong season at third base. Dexter Fowler (.236/.339/.347, 80 wRC+) has re-gained his starting spot in center field, though he has struggled at the plate considerably. Jason Giambi (.268/.360/.630, 161 wRC+) punishes baseballs whenever he comes off the bench.

Similar to when Atlanta saw them last, the Rockies are a very talented club offensively. When healthy -- and they are healthy heading into this week's series -- they can put some runs on the board, especially when they're playing at Coors Field. 

Pitching Matchups:

Monday - Derek Lowe vs. Jason Hammel - 8:40EDT (Fox Sports South, Peachtree TV)

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Derek Lowe 5-7 20 20 0 0 0 0 113.0 115 55 54 7 41 81 4.30 1.38
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Jason Hammel 5-8 18 18 0 0 0 0 110.2 112 59 52 12 41 56 4.23 1.38


Tuesday - Brandon Beachy Vs. Ubaldo Jimenez - 8:40EDT (Fox Sports South, Peachtree TV, MLB Network)

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Brandon Beachy 3-1 12 12 0 0 0 0 67.1 58 25 24 9 15 78 3.21 1.08
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Ubaldo Jimenez 5-8 18 18 2 1 0 0 110.1 101 57 50 8 43 99 4.08 1.31


Wednesday - Tim Hudson Vs. Juan Nicasio - 8:40EDT (Fox Sports South, Peachtree TV)


W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Tim Hudson 9-6 19 19 1 1 0 0 120.1 107 53 46 8 31 86 3.44 1.15
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Juan Nicasio 4-2 9 9 0 0 0 0 51.0 53 25 24 7 13 38 4.24 1.29


Thursday - Tommy Hanson Vs. Jhoulys Chacin - 3:10EDT (Fox Sports South)

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Tommy Hanson 10-5 18 18 0 0 0 0 108.2 78 36 33 10 37 117 2.73 1.06
W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Jhoulys Chacin 8-7 21 19 1 1 0 0 123.0 92 49 46 16 51 106 3.37 1.16


Bullpen:

ERA: 4.06 (12th)
xFIP: 3.53 (4th)
K/9: 7.69 (9th)
BB/9: 2.66 (1st)
fWAR: 2.2 (4th)

In conclusion...

The Rockies are a good team in search of an identity. Do they wait for their patented second half run or do they sell high on their star players and build for the future? This series will probably answer a few of these questions for them. The Braves will have their hands full with a talented offense and both Jimenez and Chacin are capable of dominating the opposition with their bevy of plus-pitches. Expect a series split, though a 3-1 victory for Atlanta is not out of the question. 

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