The 11-11 Cincinnati Reds finish their 10-game road trip this weekend with a 3-game series against the 14-7 Atlanta Braves. The reigning NL East champs are currently in first place in the NL East with a 2.5 game lead on the New York Mets and 3 games up on the Washington Nationals. The Braves hold the second best record in the National League and have the best NL run differential at +26.
This matchup features two of the best defenses in the National League. Fangraphs.com defensive statistics have the Braves and the Reds ranked as #1/#2 in both their Def stat and UZR/150. The team’s strong defense has enabled the Braves to persevere through a nearly complete turnover of the pitching rotation.
WHERE TO WATCH
All 3 games will air on Fox Sports Ohio in the Cincinnati area and on Fox Sports South in the Braves regional market.
Nationally, all three games are listed on the MLB Network schedule as one of two games that may be available each day. Check your local listing for availability.
PROBABLE BATTING LINEUP
For the first time since 2004, Braves pitchers are not throwing to Brian McCann. McCann’s departure to the Big Apple is the only major change from last year’s 4th best offense in the National League, which scored 4.3 runs per game. The 2014 version of the Braves has been below league average offensively with just 3.8 runs per game, which is only 11th most in the National League. They have five batters hitting with an OBP below .310, including the top two spots in the lineup
All stats in the table below are based on the 2014 season. An asterisk (*) indicates the player bats left handed.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
The Braves rotation, which posted the 4th best NL ERA of 3.51 last year, was decimated with free agent defection and injury this offseason. Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm were free agent departures. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are both out for the season after having Tommy John surgery last month. Mike Minor (shoulder) started the season on the DL and is making a rehab assignment start tonight.
Despite all the injuries, the 2014 Braves rotation has posted a 1.50 ERA through their first 21 games. To help fill the void, the Braves signed former Reds pitcher Aaron Harang after the Indians released him on March 24. So far this season, Harang has put up the best numbers of any of the starters, going 3-1 with a microscopic 0.85 ERA. In 5 starts, he has allowed just 15 hits, 13 walks, and struck out 33 over 31.2 innings. Harang will not be pitching against Cincinnati this weekend.
The other starter the Reds are not facing this weekend is 23 year old left-hander, Alex Wood. Wood split time between the bullpen (20 appearances) and rotation (11 starts) last season. In 5 starts so far this season, he has a 1.54 ERA over 35 innings, issuing just 7 walks with 35 strikeouts.
FRIDAY, 7:35pm clearing skies and game time temperature of 73 degrees.
Ervin Santana was another late signing by the Braves to fill their rotation needs. In his 3 excellent starts this year, Santana has faced the Mets twice, allowing only 1 run over 15 innings, plus he allowed just 1 run to the Phillies in over 6 innings. Santana traditionally has had good control over his career, but his K/9 through three starts is significantly higher than the 6.9 K/9 he’s posted the past 5 seasons.
Homer Bailey is coming off his best start of the season: six shutout innings against the Cubs.
SATURDAY, 7:10pm sunny and 78 degrees
David Hale made 5 starts for the Braves last season, and is likely only up this year until Mike Minor returns from the DL. He’s been able to hold his ERA down through the first three starts of the season, but he’s allowed 25 base runners in 15 innings.
Mike Leake is coming off back-to-back subpar starts against the Pirates, where he allowed seven runs over 13.2 innings. Leake has walked only one batter in each of his last three starts (21.2 innings.)
SUNDAY, 1:35pm with an afternoon high of 82 degrees
Julio Teheran is the only 2014 Braves starter to start all last season for the team. His K-rate is down from his career 7.5 K/9 ratio, likely due to his 2mph drop in fastball velocity. Teheran has both a 4-seam and a 2-seam fastball that he throws a combined 60-65% of the time. So far this year, he’s thrown the two-seamer about half the time he throws a fastball, compared to last year when 1-in-4 fastballs was the two-seamer.
It’s great to see Johnny Cueto back healthy and pitching every five days for the Reds. Cueto, of course, is coming off back-to-back complete game wins against the Pirates.
The Braves 2.46 bullpen ERA was the best for NL relievers in 2013. Most of the relievers have returned for the 2014 season, but the bullpen ERA has only been 3.62, 8th best in NL. Craig Kimbrel is still the team’s closer. There was some early concern early in the season when Kimbrel missed a couple of days due to shoulder soreness and exhibited a drop in velocity. However, he’s struck out 18 batters in 8.1 innings, and threw at his usual velocity in his last outing on Wednesday against the Marlins.
John Walden is the Brave’s primary right-handed setup man. He’s struck out 15 batters in 8 innings this season, and hasn’t allowed a run in his last 7 appearances (6.1 innings.)
Luis Avilan is the team’s primary left-handed setup reliever. After a stellar 2013 season with Atlanta (1.52 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in 65 innings), Avilan has some ugly stats in early 2014 (8.10 ERA, 2.25 WHIP). Avilan has surrendered 10 hits, including a homerun, and five walks in 6.2 innings. However, one-third of those baserunners and five of the six runs he allowed all came in one outing against the Phillies on April 14th.
It’s always a tough matchup against the Braves. Over the past 23 seasons, they have finished with a winning record 21 times. They’ve been to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and they seemingly do it with different players stepping up every year. Looking back over the past 11 seasons, the Braves had had 10 different guys lead the team in WAR. Chipper Jones was the only repeat during that span.
The pitching matchups favor the Reds for this series, and it will be interesting to see how the Braves 3-4-5 starters fare against a better offense than they’ve faced so far this month.