::Weirdly dramatic elevator music plays in background::
Voice over: "Two teams, bound together by one polarizing superstar."
::Pans to Justin Upton standing menacingly in partial shadow::
"During five tumultuous seasons in the desert, Justin Upton alternated between breakout young superstar..."
::Montage of Upton hitting home runs::
"...and [some euphemism for lazy, overpaid hack]"
::Shots of Upton yelling at umpires after called third strikes. Maybe some dropped balls in the outfield::
"After a forgettable 2012 season, tensions between Upton and the team reached their breaking point."
::Dredged-up 2010 footage of Upton being testy toward fans. Silent press conference footage of Ken Kendrick talking about something entirely different::
"So the Diamondbacks set up a trade that would change the destinies of two franchises. Upton was sent to Atlanta to be reunited with his brother..."
::Press conference shot of Upton brothers holding up Braves jerseys::
"And the bond that these two young stars would propel their new franchise toward a long-sought NL East title."
::Just, like, a bunch of home runs. Interspersed with footage of Upton bros high-fiving::
"And in the desert, the Snakes used their new-found devotion to grit..."
::Footage of Prado hustling after hitting a ground ball. Pan away before said ground ball turns into double play::
::Montage of smiling players. Maybe show that blow-dart thing::
"Two teams. Two very different styles of play. Two Uptons. No Yasiel Puig. One winner. Only on TBS."
::'Thiiiiiiiiiiissss Traaaaaaaaiiiiiin' by Bruce Springsteen plays for 36 straight hours::
No one wants this.
The Braves offense is on pace to do something pretty cool, actually. They're first in the NL in both strikeouts and walks. All told, exactly 33% of Brave Plate Appearances end with either a strikeout or a walk, which is probably as boring to watch as it is weirdly interesting to observe from afar. When Harold Reynolds whines about how deep players are going into the count, know that he's complaining abut the Braves first and foremost.
The Braves have a very good rotation despite having no true standouts. But a lot of that league-low ERA- comes from the bullpen, which has the lowest ERA in baseball at 2.74. Only one-third of "O'Ventbrel" is currently pitching, but that hasn't stopped the Braves from putting together a very good back end of the bullpen. Keep in mind, though, that only three teams have a bigger gap between their ERA and their FIP.
1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Martin Prado, 3B
6. Jason Kubel, LF
7. Didi Gregorius, SS
8. A.J. Pollock, CF
1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
2. Jason Heyward, RF
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
5. BJ Upton, CF
6. Brian McCann, C
7. Dan Uggla, 2B
8. Chris Johnson, 3B
I know it's fun to mock Gibby's lineup construction on here, but it does help to take a step back and remind ourselves that at least he typically doesn't do anything as crazypills as batting Andrelton Simmons (OBP: .279) leadoff, which is a thing that Fredi Gonzalez has done 42 times this year. Simmons is still one of the very best defensive Shortstops in baseball, but his bat has regressed a lot in his sophomore season.
I'm not quite sure what to make of Jason Heyward at this point. He looked like a superstar in the making when he put up an OPS of .849 at the age of 20. But since then: he has more than 1300 PAs of being roughly league-average in Right Field. He's only 23, and I'm still expecting him to raze NL pitching one of these years, but I'm more nervous about that prediction than I was last year.
The improbably-good Evan Gattis is on the DL with an oblique strain, so we won't get to see the guy with the highest OPS on the Braves. What gets overlooked in the Gattis narrative is Brian McCann is having a solid season (OPS+ of 114) after a down 2012.
The Josh Hamilton deal probably saves BJ Upton from being the worst signing of the 2012 offseason, but that doesn't mean that the Braves are happy about his .174/.269/.309 line. But Freddie Freeman has gone a long way toward making up for Upton's lack of production. The young First Baseman has had his best season to date, with an OPS of .825 that gets lost next to the Chris Davises and Paul Goldschmidts of the world, but is plenty solid for a 23-year-old First Baseman.
Friday: Randall Delgado (0-1, 4.50) vs. Julio Teheran (5-4, 3.32)
Insightful Commentary: Delgado's final line wasn't great against Cincy, but it was due primarily to a couple of home runs by good home run hitters in the Reds lineup. They weren't even terrible pitches, just exactly where the hitters were expecting them. It's still an issue, but pitch sequencing seems like one of the more fixable problems a young pitcher could have. Given how the rest of the rotation has pitched recently, a good outing might keep Delgado in the rotation after Kennedy gets back, which would have seemed far-fetched two weeks ago.
You may remember Teheran as the top pitching prospect that the Diamondbacks probably could have had in the Upton trade, had they not preferred Delgado. Teheran has had his fair share of issues as a prospect, including shoulder issues and velocity variability, which are two things that make prospect watchers run for the hills. But the patience has seemingly paid off for the Braves, as he's flashed solid strikeout stuff with consistent control. I expect the knee-jerk reactions about the extent to which Towers is an idiot/genius to be bountiful in this one.
Saturday: Ian Kennedy (3-4, 5.21) vs. Tim Hudson (4-7, 4.10)
Insightful Commentary: America's Worst Person returns! So too do all of the problems with his pitching this year, sadly. Such problems include: a slight drop in his K% that has been compounded by an sharp uptick in his walks in 2013, far too many home runs, and a career-high Line Drive Rate. Sigh...
Hudson's ERA is a bit higher than his FIP (3.66) so far in 2013. While this isn't all that noteworthy on its own, it would be the first time since 2006 and just the third time in his career that his ERA has been higher than his FIP. Hudson has made a career out of outplaying his peripherals, so he's clearly earned the benefit of the doubt about whether or not he's going to "regress" to his FIP. My guess is he does it again this year.
Sunday: Trevor Cahill ( 3-9, 4.29) vs. Paul Maholm (8-6. 3.75)
Insightful Commentary: Not you too, Trevor. Cahill has a 9.30 ERA in five June starts so far, and I feel pretty confident in saying that this has been his worst stretch as a D-Back. I've conveniently missed most of these starts somehow, so I'm probably not the best guy to tell you what's wrong, but people have mentioned that it has a lot to do with a missing release point. Given that Cahill's release point vanishes and reappears like the Room of Requirement even when he's going okay, I'm content to assume that this is just a worse version of what he typically fights through, compounded by some bad BABIP luck.
Paul Maholm completed his transformation from "failed Pirates pitching prospect" to "guile-some veteran guile machine" so subtly that I'm not convinced he did anything at all. It's only when you go back and look at his PitchFX data, where he slowly incorporated more and more crafty lefty pitches that the true cunning of Maholm's plan becomes clear.
Three Pressing Questions:
How does Cody Ross typically play in Georgia? Well, he actually has an .893 OPS in 121 PAs at Turner Field, which is one of his best marks in any park. I bet it doesn't make up for that time he had to give up his golden fiddle, though.
Are we going to see some kinda okay Shortstop defense in this series? It is a possibility, yes.
Wait, are we seriously getting through a Braves preview without an in-depth look at Justin Upton's season? Well, now we aren't. I'll be quick. The last time I wrote one of these, I concluded:
TL;DR Upton is good, but he isn't this good.
Since I wrote that, Upton has a Batting Average of .214 with an OPS of .630. He had 1.6 fWAR after April, which was absurd. But since then, that figure has actually dropped to 1.4 on the year, which also happens to be (small defensive sample disclaimer) what AJ Pollock has put up on the season.
And I'll leave you with this, for those who thought Upton needed a change of scenery to "break out":
ARI (6 yrs)
|ATL (1 yr)||.241||.352||.452||.804||118|
Braves Blog: Talking Chop
(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)