Nationals Baseball: Braves Preview

Friday, April 11, 2014

Braves Preview

First - since I haven't mentioned it for a year - if you are so inclined I am on twitter - mostly baseball stuff, more than I originally thought it would be, but not all.

The Nats are killing relievers. They are hitting them at a .315 / .397 / .519 clip by far the best in the National League. (Nats OPS is .915, next best is .835, then .774 - the AL has a couple teams a little closer but the Nats are still easily #1).  Is it that the Nats have just faced lousy bullpens? It didn't seem that way going into the Marlins series, but that is certainly a possibility. But so what? You want to kill lousy bullpens and the Nats have at the very least done that, if not beat up on ok ones.

I do believe though that the starter/reliever splits (Nats are about mid-MLB vs starters) gel with my idea of the Nats offense. It is not a murderer's row. It is good, and with Rendon and LaRoche, arguably the two biggest question marks coming into the year, both hot, there are no easy outs. (well maybe Lobaton right now but back-up catcher isn't a field flooded with talent. Honestly this guy was the best the Nats could do.) It doesn't have a guy yet who you feel you just have to pitch around. Yet.

Atlanta's relief staff has not been great. Kimbrel is Kimbrel, but getting to him has not been easy. Can the Nats take advantage of that? Speaking of Atlanta - there's a series this weekend!

The Braves come in on a bit of a slide, losing 3 of their last 4. They haven't played poorly over that time but it did highlight some flaws. The biggest overall issue is the fact their offense can go ice-cold seemingly at the drop of a hat. Nine games into the season and they already have 4 games where they've scored 1 or 0 runs. Freeman is still killing it (.419 / .514 / .677) but no one else is. Justin Upton is doing ok and Simmons, who may be limited in the series, can get singles but nothing else.  So forget Blevins pitching to Freeman. Pitch around Freeman would be the better plan versus this bunch.

The starting pitching is the biggest strength.  I'm not sure any starter has had a bad game, the worst one likely being David Hale's outing in the last game where he gave up 3 ER but in only 4 1/3 innings thanks to 5 walks. That's not good, but when it qualifies as your worst that gives you a sense of how good their starters have been. The Nats could likely be caught in a series of games that remain tense and low-scoring until the later innings. If the Nats could knock a pitcher out early their is a soft underbelly here. Of course the Nats scored all of 1 run off that underbelly last series so take that for what it's worth.

The Nats, as you know, are red hot. They did throw out their 3 best pitchers versus the Marlins though. Got two great starts from Gio and Stras, and one terrible one from ZNN.  The pen has looked good, though with a shaky moment or two.  Of course what does that all matter when you score 22 runs in 3 games? Desmond, Werth. LaRoche and Rendon have all hit exceptionally well the past week. Bryce looks to be heating up. Zimm has been a little off, and Span, you know the guy who leads off all the time and is probably the one hitter in the lineup you can't even say "well he used to be good" isn't hitting well. Surprise. Lobaton is also struggling in his role, but you have an endpoint with him. This doesn't matter when 4 guys are killing it but something to keep an eye on.

Pitching Match-Ups
Roark v Teheran
Teheran is a good pitcher. The Nats just faced him, presumably not at his best (4 walks and 111 pitches), and managed 3 hits and 2 runs over 7. Like I said - he's good. When he's on he's among the best in baseball with great control and strikeout stuff. A bit susceptible to the long ball perhaps. In theory Roark "owns" the Braves but I think that's a little bit good timing for him and wishful thinking.  Still this offense looks like it could be owned by anyone right now.

Jordan v Wood
This was the match-up last week too. In that one both guys pitched well. You could argue Wood actually pitched a bit better than Jordan but Taylor gave up 1 run to Alex's 2 and that was all either team would score. Alex could be wild, but doesn't give up the long ball. Jordan also "owns" the Braves. Like I said - I don't know if that can be disproved this time with the Braves collectively hitting so poorly.

Gio v Harang
Harang has done very well in his first two starts, almost no-hitting the Brewers and handling the Mets. But it's smoke and mirrors. His BABIP is .133 (which means he's getting lucky with GBs NOT finding holes)  His LOB% 88.9% (which means he's getting lucky with said GBs NOT finding holes at the right time). and his GB% is 27.6% which means those aren't acutally GBs he's getting lucky with - more like FBs not going out of the park. 0 HRs so far this year. He's pretty good at keeping guys in the park, but not that good.

The first two games should be toss-ups. The Nats could be held down just enough for the Braves to squeak across a couple runs, get to Kimbrel and get the win. OR the Braves could continue to be punchless, the Nats could scratch a run or two off the starter, a run or two more off relievers, and win 4-1, 5-0.  Either way I think through 7 these games are going to be close. Given that I don't feel good either way, I'll go with the split. As for the third game - Harang is a time bomb. I think the Nats win in a blow out.

I'll say the Nats take 2 of 3 and extend their lead in the NL East to 3 games. If that happens... well I'm not going to say wire to wire just yet. The Nats do have to finish an away set vs the Marlins then play STL for 4 games, but you start to think that maybe the Braves don't have what it takes to hang.

I think either way both teams have the same goal. Don't get swept. For the Braves that would really put them in a hole. With no common games until June 19th, they wouldn't have a good opportunity to close what would then be a 5 game gap until then.  It could be setting them up for trailing all the way until that 4 game set which would be the only time the play before the break. That would make that series huge... if the Nats hadn't already gotten too far ahead. If the Nats get swept "the Braves own the Nats / The Nats can't beat good teams" idea starts to get play. It could get wiped out as soon as they play the Cardinals, but then again - they Cardinals are really good.


Carl said...

Span isn't hitting that well, true, but he's playing so well defensively that I don't care. Early in yesterday's game there was a long fly to center that McLouth did successfully track down, but as the ball was in the air I was thinking "Why isn't Span out there?!?" (Naturally he probably shouldn't be batting lead-off.)

Sirc said...

I agree on Span, on both counts.

The 7th spot in the Nats' lineup is magical right now. Stick whoever is struggling there and watch them take off. It's happened 3 times now.

Put Span there.


Only the 43rd batting order I've drawn up since opening day. That means I have something in common with Matt Williams.

ocw5000 said...

Bryce's HR the other night went pretty far for a guy with a concussion.

Also it seems pretty clear to me that Matt Williams' lineups are based heavily on matchups. Ramos hitting cleanup on Opening Day because he crushes the Mets. Rendon batting 8th because he got owned by Dillon Gee last year. As many LH bats against Zach Wheeler as possible because Wheeler's splits against lefties were bad last year. I thought as a soulless automaton, you would be eating this stuff up like a robot eating robot candy. Span leading off is the only thing that doesn't make sense and screams "I need an old-school safety net for all this sabermetric sorcery"

Chaz R said...

Hahaha... ditto@ ocw5000. MW has certainly got his fingerprints on every game, but can we really complain??? Everything seems to be working.

I would LOVE to see them 2/3 in Atlanta. That would be huge, even though we are only in the second week.

I must say I have really enjoyed the games so far, and they are really playing well.

Donald said...

It's funny how quickly moods can swing this early in the season. Nats were flying high after sweeping the Mets, only to lose 2-3 to the Braves. Now we're on top of the world again. The fish were feeling like they could be special this year heading into the Nats series and the Braves had to have been pretty confident after leaving D.C. only to lose 2-3 to the lowly Mets.

As for the Braves, I think you are right about their formula for winning, which is to have their pitching keep their opponents off the board while they hope a couple of their guys get hot and score enough runs to get it to Kimbrel.

Last year, it seemed like the secret to the Braves success was the ability to rattle off a handful of long winning streaks sandwiched around .500 ball the rest of the time. Because their first two weeks of the season were one of those streaks, they jumped out to an early lead that they never gave up. Last year they had win streaks of 13, 10 and two of 6. Through August, the longest the Nats had was 5 (twice). Their longest of they year was 7 games in September when it was already too late.

blovy8 said...

Stammen is the bullpen MVP, but I like how Barrett has come on to be a reserve setup guy. His slider has to be murder on righties.

Roark may need to worry about pitching to Tehran as much as Freeman the way he was swinging the bat last start.

If Zim's new arm angle doesn't work out well enough at third, he might still fashion a Tekulve-style relief pitching career. Bring in the defensive replacement and let him work the last inning.

Lee said...

See, last year I feel like the Braves were living and dying on the long ball (5th in MLB, 1st in NL) and hoping to god they didn't strike out (3rd - behind Houston and Minnesota, 1st - tied with Mets). Dan Uggla and the Uptons come to mind. They just got HRs in all the right times and seemingly always against the Nats. So long as we keep the ball in the stadium we should beat those guys.

Wally said...

What an enjoyable series (from the Nats standpoint). Had everything that you could want. I missed the Werth grandslam though; just got tired and went to bed. My bad.

Agree with your comments on the Nats offense. I think that they'll put up fine numbers by season's end, but I condition myself all the time that they will struggle against good pitching. ok, I know the obvious point is that good pitching is good precisely because most hitters struggle against them. That is true, but elite hitters do better against them and I think we lack an elite hitter or two. Harper and Rendon may be getting to that point, and Werth and Zim may have been that once, but right now, there are probably 15 or so better hitters out there than our best. Not just the obvious ones like Trout and Cabrera, but Cutch, Votto, Braun, Freeman, Ortiz ... But with our top shelf pitching, it means we should crush the bad to mediocre teams, and struggle against the better ones. That is still a recipe for a good team and a playoff appearance, but I think it also is the type of team that gives the fan base this nagging doubt whether they are 'good enough' come the big games.

To close the loop on the Marlins, we talked about their offense being subpar, which I think was borne out in this series, but I will say that I thought that Ozuna and Dietrich looked like good hitters. Yelich gets a little more name recognition, but I didn't like him as much as the other two. And man, when Stanton hits one, that ball moves.

It is amazing that ATL, after the injuries and FA losses, is still a strong pitching team. Kudos to their development staff.

Anonymous said...

Go Nats!!!! Keep it going!!!

Chaz R said...

Shockingly, there have been no Braves trolls on here spewing nastiness and vemon in advance of this series.

Zimmerman11 said...

Ramos Zim Span Werth and Fister... well... maybe we are getting it out of the way early... is it really bad luck ... are aren't some folks more fragile than others?

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about with wire-to-wire? The Marlins had sole possession of first from Friday through Sunday last week.

Anonymous said...

Demolition complete. Get out of town, you bums.

Dan said...

Braves fan here. What a crazy series. I'm glad we swept the Nats but it's still early. Both teams have been hit hard by injuries (also interesting how bad injuries hit both the Falcons and Redskins). It should still be a two team race all summer long, I know your team will bounce back. Too much talent not to bounce back.

Kenny B. said...

Wow, that series felt like it went off the rails fast.

Jay said...

I had mentioned in a previous comment that Braves fans couldn't point to possible injury as a reason the Braves would win the division. The argument went something along the lines of Heyward, Justin Upton, and Simmons are as talented as anyone on the Nats. Also, the Nats tend to get hurt more. Thus the Braves will win the division. I disagreed, stating the Nats don't have a tendency to get hurt more. I was wrong.

Ugly weekend. Don't have to worry about expectations now. ESPN stated that until the Nats show they can beat the Braves that he is removing his preseason prediction of the Nats being one of the better teams in the NL. Have to wonder what will happen when they play the Cards this weekend. Could be ugly again. Sad part is that it ALL seems to be mental, not lack of talent.

Last comment, is it me or does it seem the Span experiment is growing old. He can't hit. I'd rather have Harper in CF and go get a legitimate bat in LF.

Donald said...

Ugly series, but all three of our starting pitchers struggled through poor outings. It's hard to win when you are are in a big early hole. Roark gave up 4 in the first, Jordan gave up 4 in the first and Gio gave up 6 over the first two. I don't know if it's just bad timing for all 3 to have off days, or if the Braves are getting into their heads, but assuming all three of those guys are better pitchers than they showed over the weekend, the Nats will bounce back.