After a 7 game road trip that started with a promising 2-1 series win over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Atlanta Braves limp back to Turner Field after being swept in 4 games at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. The series with the Reds saw the Braves' formidable offense hit the skids in a big way, as they managed a grand total of 8 runs over the 4 game set. Do the math, and 2 runs a game isn't gonna cut it.
In order to turn things around, the Braves will have to find a way to hit the best pitching staff in baseball. The Nationals enter today's series with the best ERA in the majors, and it's not that close. On the season, the Nats' starters and bullpen has a collective ERA of 2.90 (The next lowest is the Dodgers at 3.23). The scary thing is that they're not performing too far over their heads either, as evidenced by their MLB-best 2.99 FIP and second-best 3.39 xFIP. Their staff's 8.1 WAR is 1.4 WAR greater than the 2nd place team in MLB (the Rangers). I could spend this entire preview listing pitching categories that the Nats are excelling at, but you get the picture: their pitching is top-notch.
The Nationals' offense is far and away the team's weak link. The Nats rank 25th in MLB in terms of runs scored with 163. By comparison, the Braves have scored 221. The Nationals' offense is paced by former Brave Adam LaRoche, who has shattered his reputation as a slow-starter by charging out of the gates to a .297/.392/.545 line with 7 homers and 32 RBI. Around the horn, the Nationals start LaRoche at first, Danny Espinosa at second, power-hitting short stop Ian Desmond, and face-of-the-franchise third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Steve Lombardozzi has played the utility role well this season, and will probably see starts during the series. The outfield features Xavier Nady in left, former-Brave Rick Ankiel in center, and ballyhooed stud prospect Bryce Harper in right. Harper has been the talk of baseball for the past few weeks, and rightly so, as the 19 year old has posted a .264/.343/.471 line over 23 games. He's also managed 6 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, and 2 steals. The Braves will have to be careful of both his power and speed. Jesus Flores will do the bulk of the catching for the Nats after an injury cost Wilson Ramos the rest of his season.
Pitching matchups after the jump...
Game 1: Friday, May 25, 7:35pm
Mar 06, 1986
Jul 14, 1975
Ross Detwiler goes for Washington on Friday, and he is arguably the weakest link in the Nationals rotation.That said, Detwiler has still posted a 3.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP to go with his 3-3 record. Additionally, he has a 31/11 strikeout to walk ratio in 44.1 innings this year. Detwiler's going through a rough stretch though, having given up 13 earned runs in his last 16 innings, and there's talk that he could lose his rotation spot to Chein-Ming Wang if Wang can come back healthy soon. Tim Hudson, on the other hand, continues to be a stabilizing force in the Braves rotation, posting a 3.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP so far this year. In his last start, Huddy threw 7.2 shutout innings of 4-hit ball, picking up his 3rd win of the year.
Game 2: Saturday, May 26, 4:05pm
Jul 20, 1988
Dec 26, 1987
Since coming back from Tommy John's surgery last year, Stephen Strasburg has been nothing short of dominant. Strasburg will come into Saturday's start sporting a FIP of 2.20 and an xFIP of 2.54, marks that are good for 2nd and 3rd in MLB, respectively. His 10.87 K/9 ranks 3rd in baseball as well. With a fastball that touches 100 mph, a low 90s changeup, and a knee-buckling breaking ball, Strasburg's arsenal is just as terrifying as the statistics make it sound. He's only had one outing all year where he gave up more than 3 earned runs, so the Braves will have their work cut out. He has struggled a bit with going deep in games recently, have only thrown 9 innings in his last two starts. If the Braves can be patient, maybe they can get him out of the game early. Opposing Strasburg will be Braves sophomore Mike Minor, who desperately needs a good outing. After giving up 3 homers in 5 April starts, Minor has given up 9 in his 4 starts in May. His struggles have been well-documented, but perhaps returning to Turner Field is what Minor needs to get back on track. Let's hope.
Game 3: Sunday, May 27, 8:00pm
Sep 19, 1985
Sep 03, 1986
As good as Strasburg has been for the Nationals so far, Gio Gonzalez has arguably been better. Gonzalez comes in sporting a K/9 of 11.37, good for 2nd in baseball.That's right - the Nats have 2 of the 3 most prolific strikeout artists in the game. Not a good sign for a Braves team that has seemed to strike out a bunch of late. Gonzalez has posted a 1.98 ERA, 1.95 FIP, and 2.78 xFIP so far this year, marks that are good 4th, 2nd, and 3rd in baseball. To say he's been everything the Nats dreamed of since coming over from Oakland in the offseason would be an understatement. Fortunately for the Braves, we'll send the pitcher with the best ERA in baseball to the hill to counter. Beachy will be looking to rebound from his first lackluster start of the year, where he gave up 4 runs in Cincinnati. Beachy was bitten by the long ball, giving up 3 dingers, but he should be fine - several of them were cheapies that would have been fly balls at Turner Field.
Hey, why are we profiling a Division II guy? He doesn't exactly whow up on any prospect lists, right? Well, like we did last year, we're taking one player off the Central Missouri Mules and profiling them. In case you don't remember, that's the college team new owner Jim Crane played for and still has a presence through.
That doesn't necessarily mean one of these guy will get drafted, but the one that I'm most intrigued in is left-handed starter Lee Stoppelman. The senior enjoyed a breakout performance for the Mules this season, earning Pitcher of the Year honors from the Mid America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. He did that by going 8-0 with a 1.25 ERA, a .215 batting average against and 75 strikeouts in 65 innings.
What's more impressive is that Stoppelman only had nine walks over that stretch. The lanky lefty works to both sides of the plate effectively and really shut down the power production of his opposing hitters. Stoppelman only gave up nine doubles all season and those were the only extra-base hits he allowed.
I've got no scouting reports on how hard he throws or what he throws, but judging from the video, there's a lot to like. I'd bet he's not a hard thrower, but even if he can manage an mid to upper 80s fastball, he'd be tough. That's because of his arm slot, which you can see from the video below the jump comes in almost sidearm. That makes his slider break in quite a bit (from what I could barely tell on the video) and probably helps contribute to his effectiveness.
It's an easy delivery that's not particularly violent or possessing many moving parts, which suggests he's at a slightly lower injury risk. All in all, he's an intriguing small-school guy who could provide some value down the road.
I don't know that a low floor is necessarily because of his injury risk (like many pitchers), but is more because of his velocity. You've seen how hard it has been for Dallas Keuchel to break through to the majors, despite posting good numbers in the minors. Keuchel's velocity will keep him down and may even be preventing him from transitioning into a LOOGY role. That's what I think Stoppelman's floor looks like, a career minor leaguer.
However, because of his funky delivery, there's a chance Stoppelman could have a nice career. Considering his relative lack of innings pitched over the past few seasons, his arm should be good to go for a while. I'd suggest his ceiling right now is that of a Chad Bradford-esque reliever. If he shows he can be durable and throw innings in the minors, we might up that to (dare I say) late-life Jamie Moyer territory, though every soft-tossing lefty gets compared to Moyer. I like the reliever comp better.
I'm guessing if he gets drafted at all, Stoppelman will go in the final 10 rounds of the draft. Think what Houston did with Lamar starter Blake Ford last season, tabbing him in 44th round last year and having him as an arm in short-season ball. Since the draft ends at Round 40 this season, Stoppelman's draft chances should be downgraded accordingly.
As a fourth-year senior, the only way he doesn't sign is if he doesn't really want to play pro baseball.
UCM senior Lee Stoppelman is the MIAA Pitcher of the Year after a season in which he led the conference in earned run average (1.25) and opposing batting average (.214). The Pleasant Hill, Mo., product finished second in the league with 75 strikeouts, and his 8-0 record ranked him third in the MIAA in wins. Stoppelman was an All-MIAA First Team pick as well.
Back on Track After dropping four straight in Cincinnati, the Braves look to get back on track tonight against the Washington Nationals. With a series win this weekend, Atlanta would reclaim first place in the NL East. Ross Detwiler will oppose Tim Hudson in his fourth career start against Atlanta. In 19.1 career innings against [...]
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We're continuing a theme with guys I've actually seen in person. This time, it's University of Houston catcher John Cannon, who played for the Brazos Valley Bombers, a collegiate wooden bat team in the Texas Collegiate League based in Bryan.
I saw Cannon in about two or three games over the course of two summers and came away reasonably impressed. None of the players looked good in this particular wooden bat league, so I can't speak to that part of his game, but he did look pretty good defensively.
That's where I think he'll gain most of his draft value. Guys like Cannon, who have started for years at the college level and have some experience hitting in wood leagues can come in and be an organizational depth guy in the minors for a few seasons.
If Cannon's bat develops, he can move more quickly than that. Houston has seen that with another UH catcher, Chris Wallace. I'm not sure Cannon will have the same power potential as The Good Wallace, but he does have value.
Well, organizational depth is important, right? There's a chance a college guy like never makes it to even Double-A, but there's still value in that.
As I said, this will all depend on his bat. If he can hit passably, Cannon has a shot to be a big-league backup at worst. Think of Humberto Quintero, but maybe not as good a hitter.
I'd bet he gets drafted somewhere after the 20th round.
As a senior, it figures that Cannon will sign if he intends to play professionally.
Whitting calls Grayson one of the best defensive first basemen he has ever coached, and senior John Cannon has improved dramatically behind the plate.
"I don't know if I've ever seen a position player improve as much as John Cannon as at his position," UH head coach Todd Whitting said. "Before I got here, people used to run all over him. You can't run on John Cannon."
I will be talking Braves baseball on The Show on Fox Sports Radio 1370 out of Chattanooga. You can also listen to a stream on the Internet at Fox Sports Chattanooga.
Pete Rose 1989 Topps Manager Card Regardless of all of the damaging things that Pete Rose did to baseball, I still think that he would be a fantastic coach. Certainly one that I would have loved to play for. As … Continue reading →
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$3.85 will get you into the Marlins – San Francisco Giants game tonight in the new Marlins Park. If you wait a couple of more hours that price will go down. That price is not as good however as the floor price for tickets for the Marlins – Rockies … [visit site to read more]
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Despite being the hottest team in baseball (record wise) throughout the month of May, the Marlins have recently seen something common of their past: Injuries and Inconsistencies.
Early in the week, the Marlins placed starting center fielder Emilio Bonifacio on the 15 day disabled list with an injured right thumb. Both Bonifacio and Guillen believed that Boni, who leads the National League with his 20 stolen bases, would be able to come of the disabled list as soon as his 15 day stint ended. However, as of Thursday night, Bonifacio's injured thumb will require surgery and as a result he will be out of the starting lineup for 4-6 more weeks.
Austin Kearns, who made the team out of spring training, had been swinging a hot bat both off the bench and when he was in the starting lineup facing a lefty. Kearns had several key hits in a Marlins victory over Jamie Moyer and the Rockies. Kearns injured his hamstring in the final game of the series, and now will join Bonifacio on the 15 day disabled list.
Corresponding roster moves were made, as the Marlins called up several outfielders, including Bryan Petersen, Kevin Mattison, and Chris Coghlan, from AAA New Orleans, but the production will be hard to match. Young players will have a tough time getting on base as much as Bonifacio did, and right handed production off the bench late in the game might not be a strength any longer.
Starting pitchers have been going deep into games, and the bullpen has been recording key outs. Although pitching has been a plus, runs may not come easily for Miami any longer.
-On Thursday night, the Marlins lost what manager Ozzie Guillen called "the worst played game of the season", a 14-7 contest against the San Francisco Giants. Anibal Sanchez got knocked around and the defense did not play well behind him. Giancarlo Stanton hit crushed another ball, and lit up the home run sculpture for the second time on the homestand that is not yet halfway over.
-After Thursday's loss, the Marlins optioned lefty Mike Dunn to AAA for the second time this season. Dunn's ERA is above 9. No corresponding move was made. A Gaby Sanchez call-up, according to multiple sources, is possible.
-With his grand slam on Monday night, Giancarlo Stanton is just one of four major league players to hit four grand slams before their 23rd birthday. The other three: Ted Williams, Eddie Mathews, and Ken Griffey Jr.
-The Marlins look to bounce back on Friday night as Josh Johnson will square off against Tim Lincecum. The Fish hadn't lost back-to-back games until losing the previous two. With a 16-7 May record, the Marlins will look to continue to play well, as an atrocious June ended their playoff hopes early in 2011.
-Juan Carlos Oviedo's visa has been finalized, however president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest would not comment on the matter, aside from saying that nothing is finalized. With Heath Bell as their closer, the Fish may look to trade Oviedo.
-Carlos Zambrano, who entered his Tuesday night start among the league leaders in earned run average, got knocked around on Wednesday in a loss to the visiting Rockies.
Around The League
-The Baltimore Orioles are reportedly close to giving Adam Jones a club-record contract extension. According to FoxSports.com, the deal will easily surpass the two other big contracts given in O's history.
-Albert Pujols hit his 450th career home run and starter Dan Haren pitched a gem, recording 14 strikeouts, as the Angels beat the Mariners 3-0.
-It appears Adam Dunn has been comfortable in Chicago, as he is among the AL leaders in home runs. Former Marlins Alejandro De Aza, who the White Sox claimed off of waivers, hit a grand slam on Thursday night.
At Fish Stripes
-Jose Reyes has become patient at the top of the lineup, however Hanley Ramirez is still not hitting balls out of the Park. Ramirez did improve is slugging percentage by .110 in May, though.
-Reyes has drawn many walks in the leadoff spot this year, something he didn't do early on with Mets. He is also getting deeper into counts.
-Prospect Brent Keys is someone to watch, as he is hitting.400 in Class A ball.
Thank Fredi we're home! I can't believe the Braves are going to play a home game... six straight home games. I'm declaring this good news for the Braves. They'll be facing Ross Detwiler with Tim Hudson on the mound. The Braves have handled Detwiler pretty well. Even Huddy has a hit off of him ... even Jack Wilson is 3-for-4 off of him (I assume he'll be in the lineup with Huddy on the mound, and this time, that might not be a bad thing).
And Huddy has handled the Nats lineup, and has handled the Natinals in his career, brandishing a 14-and-3 lifetime mark with a 2.05 ERA. The Braves will need every bit of luck they can muster to pull themselves out of this funk.
Vs. stats after the jump: