Braves Aim for Best Record in Tough Series


The Braves continue their homestand with a tough three-game set against the Padres, who sit at 54-37, first place in the West by four games. Their win yesterday let them remain as the team with the top record in the National League by a half game over the Braves. With two teams at such close and solid records as these, it’s bound to be a good series.

The Padres bring with them a weak offense and top notch pitching staff. They rank 14th in the NL in wOBA at .310 and a measly .701 OPS. Obviously Petco Park does damage to their offensive numbers, but the numbers aren’t much better on the road. Adrian Gonzalez would slug if he was in Death Valley, but the only other Padre regular with a SLG over .400 on the road is Chase Headley at .409. Gonzalez leads the team with 20 homers but the next highest is a tie between Scott Hairston and Will Venable with eight. Gonzalez has a .245 ISO and the rest duke it out in the mid-to-low .100’s. It’s an offense that slaps its way around the bases and lives off excellent pitching.

Like their records, the only team with a better pitching staff in baseball than the Braves is the Padres. They sport a 3.78 xFIP, tops to the Braves’ 4.03. As a team, they have one of the best K/BB ratios at 2.54 due to a 7.91 K/9, and they don’t walk many. Surprisingly, they are one of 12 teams in MLB with a HR/FB of ten or more despite having average HR/9 numbers. I have to believe that’s luck. Looking at home/road splits, the only pitcher the Braves face that benefits from Petco Park considerably is Jon Garland, who has a 2.51 ERA and four homers allowed in 61 innings at home, while posting a 4.53 ERA and seven homers allowed in 53.2 innings on the road. The bullpen is equally dominating at home and on the road, and you could even make the case that it’s better away from Petco. This staff is legit.

The Braves will see Wade LeBlanc in the opener on Tuesday. LeBlanc’s shiny ERAs from the past two seasons are not indicative of how he has pitched. He has given up over nine hits per nine innings in 92 innings this season while striking out just 6.12 K/9 and posting a 1.80 K/BB. His whiff rate is down and he’s giving up more line drives, and he’s stranding runners at an incredible 85% rate. This results in a xFIP of 4.69, far off from the 3.30 ERA. He’s likely to digress in the second half, and with how the Braves are hitting lefties better lately, it could begin here. The Braves have never seen LeBlanc, however, and he has the advantage on that end.

Jair Jurrjens pitches for the Braves on Tuesday. He has allowed a total of five runs in his three starts since returning from the disabled list and has pitched beyond expectations. He allowed eight runs in 3.1 innings against the Padres back in April in one of his worst career starts. Before that start, Jurrjens had allowed just two runs in 13.2 career innings against the Padres. Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley have done the most damage off Jurrjens.

Jon Garland will face the Braves on Wednesday. He has benefited from Petco in his first season on the team, posting an ERA two full runs higher on the road and allowing three more home runs in eight fewer innings. His ERA is usually in line with his xFIP but a move to Petco has changed that. He is striking out hitters at a career-best 5.81 K/9, but is also walking the most since 2002 at 3.85 BB/9. A low BABIP of .276 means he will continue to digress in the second half. One thing worth noting is Garland is getting balls on the ground at a rate of 50% compared to his average of around 45%, so that justifies some of the lower amount of home runs allowed despite pitching in Petco. Garland has yet to see the Braves this season but he has struggled mightily in two career starts against them, allowing 14 runs on 21 hits in only 8.1 innings. Five Braves hitters have at least one career homer off Garland, and Eric Hinske and Troy Glaus have three each.

Tommy Hanson pitches for the Braves on Wednesday in what could be the best matchup of the week. He faced the Padres in April and allowed one run in six innings for the win. He has given up three runs in 12 career innings against the Padres for two wins.

Clayton Richard will go for the Padres in the series finale on Thursday. Richard is striking out hitters at a clip much higher than he has in his professional career at 7.2 K/9. His walks are down but he still gives up his share along with plenty of hits. He’s getting grounders at a 50% rate and his HR/9 of 0.68 is very good. Richard doesn’t rely on Petco as much as Garland and his numbers are pretty equal both home and away. He has struggled lately, allowing at least five runs in each of his last three starts. He saw the Braves in April and gave up three runs in 5.1 innings in a loss. He has given up nine runs in 7.2 innings against the Braves in his career. Matt Diaz, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann have all hit Richard well.

Tim Hudson will face the Padres on Thursday. He has a 4.14 ERA in 41 career innings against the Padres but is 4-0. He allowed two runs in 5.2 innings against them in April. Adrian Gonzalez is 7-14 with two homers against Hudson.