The Braves come into this series against the Phillies in dire straits, clinging to a 6-game lead in the NL East after a disastrous 4-2 homestand. Oh wait no, they have the largest division lead in all of baseball, and going 4-2 at home is pretty good. Sorry, the panic that greets every single Braves loss caused me to lose my head for a moment. The Braves are 49-36 and eight and a half games better than the 41-45 Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves have a distinct advantage over the Phillies when it comes to lineups. The Braves hitters sport a 103 wRC+ while the Phillies are at 95 wRC+. The Braves get on base at a higher rate than the Phillies and hit for more power. Chase Utley has been the Phillies best hitter being worth 2.6 fWAR so far in 2013. Utley is in the last year of his contract and is 34 years old. This combined with the Phillies status as non-contenders would suggest he is a valuable trade chip at the deadline. The Phillies front office seems to be laboring under the delusion that they are contenders though, and unless Ruben Amaro Jr. comes back to reality, its possible Utley stays put. Regardless, Utley, along with power hitting Dominic Brown are the players Braves pitchers need to be most concerned with. Outside of these two, the Phillies lineup isn’t particularly threatening.
Ben Revere is the classic leadoff hitter who is terrible at the plate but leads off because he is fast, though he has recently been moved to the seventh spot in the order. This is actually a smart place for him since speed is much more valuable in front of singles hitters than power hitters. His demotion means Michael Young is leading off who is a useful above average singles hitter. Batting second is Jimmy Rollins who is a classic Phillies player at this point, a declining superstar still expected to carry his team because he used to be good. Rollins .303 wOBA is less than ideal in the second spot in the order but that’s not nearly as bad as batting Ryan Howard fourth. Howard is at this point a strict platoon, DH only, player who plays a position in the field every day. Howard’s .329 wOBA is above league average but he has some of the most horrific splits any player has ever had. Howard will face lefty Paul Maholm tonight and Howard has a .223 wOBA against lefties. Batting a hitter who is essentially a mewling child at the plate vs lefties in the cleanup spot, vs a lefty is hysterical. Howard should be much more of a threat against righties Hudson and Medlen, especially a pitcher like Hudson who has struggled to contain homeruns.
Delmon Young bats sixth for the Phillies and has been a decent hitter since making his 2013 debut. His 111 wRC+ is third best for the Phillies everyday players. Batting eighth is Humberto Quintero who is terrible. One advantage for the Braves in this series will be the Phillies comically bad defense. The Phillies start Michael Young, Ryan Howard, Delmon Young, and Domonic Brown who are all undoubtedly terrible fielders. Delmon Young has been so bad defensively that he has been worth -0.6 fWAR despite being an above league average hitter. Michael Young is a former DH who at the age of 36 has moved back to playing an actual defensive position at third base with logical results. Ryan Howard is a statue at first base and Dom Brown has at least hit well enough to justify his terrible defense in left field. The Braves lineup is stronger than the Phillies and the Braves defense is miles better than Philadelphia’s.
Friday, July 5th – 7:30 pm ET – Paul Maholm vs Cliff Lee
The Braves offense that seems to perpetually struggle in the minds of many fans while still being pretty good will be hard pressed to right itself against Cliff Lee, who is having a spectacular season even by his lofty standards. Lee comes into the game with a 2.59 FIP the third best mark in all of baseball while his identical 2.59 ERA ranks fifth in the majors. Lee ranks 7th in the majors in BB/9 innings and is 28th in K/9 innings. He is really good. Paul Maholm has had a good season especially for a guy many Braves fans seem desperate to dump for a bullpen arm at the deadline. Maholm has a 3.93 FIP and has outperformed that to an extent with a 3.69 ERA. He started the season on a huge tear and has cooled off since then, but he is still a good major league starting pitcher which is far more value than any bullpen arm he is traded for could possibly produce. Both Maholm and Lee are lefties and this matchup undoubtedly favors the Phillies. Then again Lee would be favored against any Braves starter and Maholm should make Ryan Howard irrelevant in the cleanup spot for the Phillies. While the Phillies should win this game, Maholm probably gives the Braves a better chance than Hudson or Medlen would in this matchup.
Saturday, July 6th – 7:15 ET – Tim Hudson vs Kyle Kendrick
The Saturday night FOX matchup for the Braves features Tim Hudson in his pushed back start vs Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick has had a solid season for Philadelphia as his 3.75 FIP suggests. His ERA is 3.59 and his xFIP is 4.07 suggesting that Kendrick has been lucky in terms of limiting homeruns this year. Kendrick’s strikeout rate leaves a little to be desired but this is mitigated by a low walk rate. Kendrick is a solid option for the Phillies but not someone who should necessarily makes Braves fans nervous. The Braves send out Tim Hudson who has been solid with a 3.82 FIP, though 2013 has been only the third year in his career that his FIP has actually been lower than his ERA. Hudson has made a borderline hall of fame career out of outperforming his FIP only to see that change this year. Hudson’s FIP is actually nearly identical to his 2012 mark but he has seen his ERA jump from 3.62 to 4.22 this year. This is with a higher groundball rate in 2013, more strikeouts per nine innings, and only a marginal increase in walks per nine innings. The main problem for Hudson in 2013 has been his homerun rate especially on the road. Hudson in 2013 has allowed 1.21 homers per nine innings on the road, while only allowing 0.54 at home. This is bad news for the Braves because Hudson is pitching tonight in the bandbox that is CBP. Kendrick is a solid option for the Phillies but not one who should necessarily worry Braves fans. Hudson has had a decent season but struggled with homers and on the road. Both factors figure to work against Atlanta in this game.
Sunday, July 7th – 1:35 ET – Kris Medlen vs Jonathan Pettibone
On Sunday afternoon the Braves face Phillies rookie Jonathan Pettibone. Pettibone has been unspectacular in his rookie campaign to this point posting a 4.48 FIP and 3.99 ERA in 14 starts. Pettibone had early success to start the year via an unsustainable strand rate that has come back to earth. He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters and gives out too many free passes at almost a full 3 per nine innings. He is right handed and the sort of pitcher that the Braves patient, home run hitting and walk drawing lineup should hit relatively hard. The Braves will send Kris Medlen to the hill who has the lowest ERA on the team but the highest FIP. This discrepancy suggests Medlen’s ERA is due for some regression though he strikes out more batters than Maholm or Hudson while also walking fewer. Medlen has one of the lower groundball rates on the Braves and groundballs are what you want when pitching in CBP. While Medlen is likely to give up a homer or two, if he can limit baserunners the Braves should expect their offense to score more off Pettibone than the Phillies get off Medlen. Overall I would expect the Phillies to win game one, the Braves to win game three, and for game two and the series to be decided by whether the homers Hudson allows are of the three run or solo variety.