The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers meet Friday to kick off what should be a terrific three-game series at Turner Field. The Braves have beaten up on teams near the bottom of the standings the last few weeks, but that is set to change drastically.
This series with the Dodgers will begin a brutal stretch for Atlanta -- after wrapping up with the National League West leaders this weekend, the Braves head to Washington for three with the Nationals and then go west to San Francisco for four with the Giants.
The Dodgers enter with a record of 65-54, good for the fifth-best mark in the NL. Instead of our typical series previews here on SB Nation Atlanta we tried something a bit different. Eric Stephen, manager and editor of True Blue LA and SB Nation Los Angeles, was kind enough to answer a few key questions about the Dodgers and what we can expect this weekend.
Braves fans are well aware of Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino from their days in the NL East. What are your impressions on the two and how have they performed?
They have both definitely added a spark to the lineup. They were both replacing positions at which the Dodgers weren't getting any production. Left fielders were hitting .256/.326/.345 before Victorino (.279/.333/.410), and the Dodgers got nothing out of shortstop (.235/.284/.323) and third base (.239/.296/.354) before Hanley (.317/.387/.476, with 23 RBI in 21 games). Factor in the defensive upgrade in left from Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera to Victorino, and you have quite an improvement overall from both guys.
Chris Capuano, Friday night's starter, has come out of nowhere to be one of the best pitchers on the staff. What's behind all of his success this season?
One of the main things has been health, as he is another year removed from his second career Tommy John surgery. But while Capuano's success has been somewhat surprising, he was fairly underrated last year. He has similar walk and strikeout rates this year (struck out 21.9% of batters faced, walked 7.3%) as last year (20.9%, 6.6%). His home runs are down this year, which has helped his stellar 3.11 ERA. But aside from stats, Capuano has said his command has improved this year, as well as his focus, which has allowed him to execute his pitches and put them where he wants them (as cliched as that sounds).
The Dodgers have one of the better bullpens in the NL this season. How does manager Don Mattingly typically run his pitchers out there in the later innings?
Kenley Jansen is the closer, and in most cases Ronald Belisario is the eighth inning man (Belisario has been a pleasant surprise, after missing all of last season with a visa problem stemming from testing positive for cocaine). After that is a bit of a crapshoot, as Brandon League hasn't looked all that great since coming over from Seattle at the trade deadline. Mattingly trusts Javy Guerra as well as Jamey Wright, so you could see that trio in the sixth or seventh in a close game. Randy Choate is the lone lefty in the pen, so expect him to pitch at least two games this weekend. Rookie Shawn Tolleson has quietly been very effective for the last month and a half or so, but it is unlikely that he will pitch in a hold situation.
LA enters 0.5 games up in the NL West. Do you see them making the playoffs and what could hold them back in the final two months?
I do think they will win the National League West, but it will be a close battle with the Giants and D-Backs to the end. They could be crippled by an injury to a starting pitcher, as they don't have much depth in that department. Both Ted Lilly and Rubby De La Rosa are rehabbing, but neither is likely to start in September. The team has also been amazingly streaky, especially of late, so there could be a three or four-game losing streak just around the corner. Though with the way Chad Billingsley (starting Sunday) and Clayton Kershaw have been pitching of late, those losing streaks might not be so long after all.
Here are the pitching matchups for the series:
Friday, 7:35 p.m. EST - Tommy Hanson (12-5, 4.29 ERA) vs. Chris Capuano (11-8, 3.11 ERA)
Saturday, 7:10 p.m. - Ben Sheets (4-2, 2.13 ERA) vs. Aaron Harang (8-7, 3.76 ERA)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m. - Mike Minor (6-9, 4.93 ERA) vs. Chad Billingsley (9-9, 3.62 ERA)
For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop.