Greetings! The Braves took 2 of 3 from the Mets to start the week (despite the Kameron Loe show on Wednesday), and carry that momentum into Philadelphia for a 3-game weekend set with the Phillies. Let’s take a glance at what to expect.
Friday, September 6th – 7:05 PM ET – Mike Minor vs. Cliff Lee
The Braves certainly don’t get a break as far as opposing is concerned over the weekend. Cliff Lee is one of the best pitchers in the game over the last half-decade or so, and that hasn’t changed this year despite Philly’s struggles. Lee has a 3.09 ERA this season, but more impressively, the 35-year-old left-hander has a sparkling 1.52 BB/9 walk rate to go with a strikeout rate of 8.23 K/9. The fact that both of those ratios represent a downturn from previous seasons is almost funny, but Lee is a spectacular pitcher and the Braves lineup is in for a test. As far as Atlanta is concerned, Mike Minor allowed 4 earned runs against Miami last week, but he is still sporting a 3.08 ERA for the year. I would stop short of saying that this pitching match-up is a draw, but with Minor facing the much less potent Phillies offense (especially as a left-handed pitcher), it balances things out a bit. After seeing the “give-up” lineup deployed on Wednesday, I’d expect the A-Team on the field in this spot, and that gives the Braves hope against Lee.
Saturday, September 7th – 7:05 PM ET – Alex Wood vs. Kyle Kendrick
If there was a definite match-up in which the Braves have the edge, it’s this one. Kyle Kendrick isn’t completely abysmal, but he does have a 4.51 ERA that seems to be rising by the day (5 runs allowed against the Cubs in his last start). He is susceptible to power-hitting left-handers, so guys like Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman could be in for big days here. For the Braves, Alex Wood was smacked around in a big way back on September 1st against the Marlins, when he gave up 7 earned runs in just 2.1 innings of work. I would like to thank that it was a mirage of unfortunate circumstances, but with the workload mounting, there has to be at least some concern about Wood’s arm. He can go a long way toward alleviating those worries in this spot, and if he is the Alex Wood that we saw in August, the Braves are a big favorite here.
Sunday, September 8th – 1:35 PM ET – Paul Maholm vs. Cole Hamels
The finale represents the least favorable pitching match-up for the Braves. Paul Maholm hasn’t been fantastic since returning from the DL (16.1 innings, 8 runs), but he hasn’t been a trainwreck either. The Philly offense is likely worse than 2 of the opponents that he’s faced since then (Cleveland and St. Louis), but Maholm’s road splits are troubling this season. In 77 innings on the road, he has a woeful 6.08 ERA (versus 57.2 innings of a 2.18 ERA at home), and that isn’t exactly encouraging as the Braves take the field in Citizens Bank Park. Fortunately for the Braves, Cole Hamels hasn’t been COLE HAMELS this season. He still has a 3.50 ERA over 193 innings, but the left-hander has only 6 wins (insert caveat about pitcher wins) and his strikeout rate has dipped from previous seasons. With all of that said, he is much, much better than Paul Maholm, so the Braves will need a herculean effort somewhere along the way to grab a win.
The Braves enter the weekend with a 14-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East and a magic number of 10. If all goes to plan, the team will take 2 of 3 in this series, but even with a losing effort in Philly, there would be no need for panic. We have officially shifted gears toward “keep everyone healthy and prepare for the playoffs” mode, but it would be nice to see encouraging signs from guys like BJ Upton, Dan Uggla, and Paul Maholm.
Stay tuned for game-by-game analysis in this space as it happens!