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Rox face Atlanta's talented quartet of right handers to close out season's first half

Well, we needed that sweep. Now, we are guaranteed to have a winning record at the All-Star Break for the first time since 2006, when we were 44-43 before losing 8 of 9 and falling apart. (We were 44-44 in 2007). Now, provided we win one game against Atlanta, we'll recover from last weekend without having a losing homestand. Granted, you want better than a 5-5 homestand against Arizona, Washington and Atlanta. I'd be begrudgingly content with a series split and 6-4 homestand, but the goal was definitely to pull a 7-3 mark going into the All-Star Break.

In case you're into scoreboard watching, San Francisco sits alone, one game ahead of the Rockies in the wild card chase. They draw San Diego for four games while we grapple with the Braves, so it will be tough to maintain ground without a solid series from our end.

Atlanta is about as straight down the middle average as any team in the league overall. They are two games under .500, two games under .500 on the road, and their -8 run differential alludes to an identical 41-43 record. However, the only team that has managed 7 wins in their last 10 in the NL is the Braves. After winning a game vs the Red Sox June 28, Atlanta swept Philadelphia before losing three straight, including a hiccup series loss at Washington. They rebounded to take the last two games of a series vs the Wrigley Field.

As Rox Girl pointed out in the Game Wrap comments last night, the Braves have had the Rockies number historically, winning every season series sans 1996, 1997 and 2005. The two teams split a four game set in Atlanta, notable as is was just a week before Clint Hurdle's firing. That means a series win would ensure not only a winning road trip but a season series victory over the Braves for just the 4th time in 17 seasons.

The Braves' blog is the Talking Chop. The Rockies are definitely the better team, but the starters for Bobby Cox could endanger the series win we desperately desire.


Atlanta Braves (41-43, W2, 3rd, 4.5 GB)

Thursday-Sunday: 4-game series at Coors Field

The Bats: C-

Team statistics suggest a slightly below average offense. Their batting average is 15th, HR is 26th, 22nd in runs, 19th in wOBA and a 22nd best team value of -21.3. Since McLouth has joined the club, those numbers are still a little lower than the clout the lineup can produce. Emergence of better bats in right and at second in Prado and Diaz allow for a better lineup as well, though they remain 29th in stolen bases.

Nate McLouth - CF .272 14 49 .349 .484 .367
Martin Prado - 2B .324 4 16 .388 .506 .387
Chipper Jones - 3B .292 9 40 .408 .472 .375
Brian McCann - C .300 8 35 .380 .485 .377
Garrett Anderson - LF .274 5 30 .306 .400 .308
Yunel Escobar - SS .292 7 43 .354 .427 .325
Casey Kotchman - 1B .275 4 31 .345 .398 .328
Jeff Francoeur - RF .243 5 33 .276 .337 .270

By wOBA metrics, the lineup features three very strong hitters batting close to an All-Star level (Prado, Jones, McCann), above average hitters (McLouth), two slightly below average sticks (Kotchman and Escobar), one solidly below average (Anderson) and one terrible hitter (Francoeur). Note the dropoff to the light hitters after McCann.

Jeff Francoeur's struggles have opened the door for Matt Diaz (.309/.380/.474), who has performed very well. The two have split duties recently, though Francoeur got the start in the last two games. Martin Prado (.324/.388/.504)has not only softened the blow of losing Kelly Johnson and Omar Infante to injuries, but he has been better than both in his 170 ABs. In addition to Diaz, the bench is filled with C David Ross (.279, 6, 15), IF's Diory Hernandez (.135, 1, 1 in 72 ABs) and Brooks Conrad (5-14, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and OF Gregor Blanco (.190, 0, 1 in 42 ABs). Jordan Schafer was sent to AAA when Atlanta acquired Nate McLouth.

Hop after the jump for the scouting report on the arms, the D, the pitching matchups and the hot/cold players.

The Arms: A

Fangraphs lists the Braves as having the 5th best staff in the bigs. Their ERA is 6th at 3.83, and their ERA/FIP/tRA splits for starters and relievers are 3.75/3.65/4.02 and 3.99/3.63/3.73. That's very solid. Four starters come in with an above average tRA, while only Boone Logan is below average in the pen.

Rafael Soriano has supplanted Mike Gonzalez as Bobby Cox' closer - Gonzalez is now the setup man despite having a fine season himself. They are joined in the pen by lefty Eric O'Flaherty and righties Manny Acosta, Boone Logan, Kris Medlen, and Peter Moylan.

The D: D

The Braves have committed 55 errors, 11th most in the league. Their .983 Flg % is slightly below average, though their range is near the bottom via their -5.0 UZR/150. Fangraphs lists them as the 27th most valuable defense.

Prado, Kotchman and either RF are above average defensively, while everyone else is a liability, especially the old man Chipper and his new LF Garrett. Basically, all the plus defenders are on the right side while all the bad ones are on the left side, and up the middle. Hit it to left.

Probable Pitchers:

Tonight, 6:40 pm MDT

2009 - Tommy Hanson 4-0 2.25 1.25 23 18

Hanson has been impressive in his six MLB starts this year - other than an Adam Dunn solo home run in his last start, he has been unscathed in his past four starts. Note, however, that he is a bit fortunate, allowing a tiny .227 BABip (especially with a subpar defense), a very high 89.4% runners stranded rate and a very low 1.28 K/BB rate. All that leads to a 5.49 tRA, making him the only below average starter in the rotation, believe it or not. Don't get scared of the hype or numbers - patience and a little timely hitting and we'll get to him.

2009 - Aaron Cook 8-3 3.76 1.35 52 31

Cook has allowed 2 or less runs in 5 of his last 6 starts. His best start of the season came at Atlanta, where he pitched a 4-hit complete game shutout.

Friday, July 10, 7:10 pm MDT

2009 - Derek Lowe 7-7 4.56 1.43 56 36

After a string of six straight quality starts, Lowe has lost four straight decisions, allowing crooked numbers to the Orioles, Yankees and Nationals. His peripherals remain solid, especially considering an NL-career high BABip, but he is effectiveness is eroding.

2009 - Ubaldo Jimenez 6-8 3.86 1.33 93 45

Jimenez was listed by Jerry Crasnick as the sixth most hard luck pitcher this year. Hard to argue. Cover up W-L, and he looks flat scary. He has lost two straight decisions and has allowed 4 runs in three of his past five starts.

Saturday, July 11, 6:10 MDT

2009 - Jair Jurrjens 6-7 2.91 1.26 75 41

Jurrjens is both a tough luck pitcher and a lucky pitcher. His ERA and any peripherals suggest he should have a much better record, but he also has the 17th greatest helpful split in ERA/FIP in MLB. He was 2nd in that category the last time he faced the Rockies, but the effect is still there. He has lost five straight decisions despite allowing no more than four runs in any start, doin gso 3 times in those 7 games. He allowed just one run in 7 IP against the Rockies earlier this year.

2009 - Jason Marquis 11-5 3.61 1.30 54 38

Marquis can break Franklin Morales' franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings by shutting the Braves out for the first three innings. He can also ensure that he leads MLB at the All-Star Break with a 12th win.

Sunday, July 12, 1:10 MDT

2009 - Javier Vazquez 6-7 2.95 1.05 136 23

Vazquez was #1 on Crasnick's tough-luck list, and he was the obvious choice. His statistics suggest he's a shoo-in for an All-Star spot, but that record cost him a spot. His FIP is a ridiculous 2.58 and his tRA is 2.95, so that sub-3.00 ERA is legit. He trails only Tim Lincecum in strikeouts in the NL, trails just Dan Haren in K/BB, and he's allowed 2 or less runs in 7 of 8 starts. He threw five scoreless innings against the Rox earlier this year, striking out 6.

2009 - Jason Hammel 5-4 4.07 1.40 59 21

Hammel's ERA has hovered in the low 4's for the last few weeks. He has five quality starts in his past seven and has won five of his last six decisions, the only loss coming while allowing one run in 8 IP in Los Angeles.

33_15_10---fire-flame-texture_web_mediumRafael Soriano has been unscored upon in 11 of 12 outings, allowing just four hits in those 12 IP. Casey Kotchman (7-18, 2HR), Matt Diaz (9-19, 3 2B), Martin Prado (12-29, 6 2B) and Nate McLouth (11-28, 2 HR) are coming off a strong previous week.

IceJeff Francoeur is cold as always, getting just two singles in his last 19 trips with 6 K's and no BBs. Brian McCann (6-27) and Garrett Anderson (4-21) had tough weeks.

Bandaid_mediumRHP's Tim Hudson (elbow) and Jorge Campillo (trapezius) are on the 60day DL. Omar Infante (hand), Greg Norton (ankle), Jo-Jo Reyes (hamstring), Kelly Johnson (wrist), Buddy Carlyle (upper back) and Jeff Bennett (hand) are on teh 15-day DL.