Series Preview: Atlanta Braves (18-11) at Chicago Cubs (11-17)

The Cubs just managed to take 2 of 3 from the NL's best team and now face another one of the best teams in the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are a half game behind the Nationals in the NL East, but have won 3 in a row.

Pitching Matchups

Monday, May 7, 7:05 PM CT, WCIU

Tommy Hanson, RHP (3.74 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.29 ZiPS FIP): Hanson has allowed a career BABIP of .282, but this year it's at .330. However, his GB% is up over 47% (career 41.1%). It still shouldn't be that high and will come down a bit, but if the GB rate remains so high he will have a higher than usual BABIP. After only 6 starts and 33.2 innings, his strikeouts are down by about 1.5 per 9 innings. They're still at 8.3, which is just under his career 8.4 K/9. His walk rate is also slightly worse, but still a respectable 3.7 per 9. The reason his FIP so much lower than the ERA is the home run rate is at a career low for him and will see some regression as we move deeper into the season. He's worked deeper than 6 innings only twice (7 innings both times) and it appears the Braves are still taking it easy on him as far as pitch count goes. His last start was his worst of the season as he didn't make it out of the 4th inning. Overall though, Hanson has had 4 pretty good starts and 2 bad ones. His fastball velocity was 92.2 his rookie season and 92.7 in 2010. It then dropped to 91.1 and this year it's at 89.6. At his age and usage the Braves have to be concerned about a 3 mph loss of velocity over 2 seasons.

Jeff Samardzija (3.41 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 3.93 ZiPS FIP): Whatever I could say about Samardzija here I wrote about the other day.

Tuesday, May 8, 7:05 PM CT, WGN

Randall Delgado, RHP (5.14 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 4.52 ZiPS FIP): Last season Delgado was ranked as the 35th best prospect in baseball at the age of 21. This year he fell to 46th and made the opening day roster for the Braves. In the minor leagues he struck out 9.5 batters per 9 innings and last year in his 7 appearances it was under 5. This year it's up to 8.4 K/9. His last start was the best start of his young career as he went 8 innings and allowed 2 runs. He struckout 5 and walked none. He had a pretty good start to open the season and 3 not so good starts prior to his last one. Last season he threw primarily a 4-seamer, but this year it's his 2-seamer. His velocity is 91.8 on the 4-seamer and 90.4 on the 2-seamer. Nearly 70% of his pitches are the 2-seamer and 4-seamer. 18.3% of the time he throws a changeup.

Ryan Dempster, RHP (0.95 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 3.85 ZiPS FIP): Dempster is off to a terrific start. He leads the league with that silly ERA and has been helped by a BABIP under .200, as well as stranding a lot more runners than you'd expect. It's still been a great start for Dempster who is in the final year of his contract. Dempster made his 4th start of the season after returning from the DL and had his best start of the season. He threw 8 innings, allowed only 3 hits, walked 1 and struckout 5. According to game score, Dempster had only 1 start last season in which he was better than his last time out. He had an 81 last time and last year's best was 83. He had just 1 start better than that in 2010 and none in 2009. He was better twice in 2008. His last start was the 5th best start in a Cubs uniform for Dempster.

Wednesday, May 9, 1:20 PM CT, CSN

Tim Hudson, RHP (6.55 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.82 ZiPS FIP): Hudson's FIP is right in line with what we expect from him, but his ERA is ridiculously high. This is becasue 25% of the fly balls hit against him have been home runs. His LOB% is 54.2% compared to a career 74%. He's only made 2 starts and thrown 11 innings so it's not really a surprise to see numbers like this. In his first start back from the DL he was pretty good and in his next start he was terrible. Tim Hudson is still Tim Hudson even though he's now 36 years old. I don't know how much longer Hudson can pitch or how much longer he wants to, but if he could stick around for a few more years he's a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. He's not what he once was, but few players 36 are what they were when they were younger.

Paul Maholm, LHP (5.13 ERA, 5.61 FIP, 4.11 ZiPS FIP): Like Hudson, Maholm has been bitten by an unusually large HR/FB rate (18.5%). His xFIP is 4.54, which isn't too much higher than his career 4.21. What's odd is that so far he's allowed only a .221 BABIP, but has given up so many runs due to the home runs. His strikeouts are at a career low 4.8, but his walks are also at a career low 2.1. The strikeouts won't increase much, but the walks will probably increase more than the strikeouts. Maholm had 2 terrible starts to begin the season and over his last 3 starts he's allowed only 3 runs in 18.1 innings.

Batting

Nobody has been hitting the ball close to as well as the Cardinals have in the NL, but the Braves are 2nd with a team .333 wOBA (110 wRC+). The Rockies have hit 34 home runs and the Braves and Brewers are tied for 2nd with 33. The Cubs have hit 15, which actually isn't last at this point.

Chipper Jones is doing Chipper Jones things (5 HR, .404 wOBA). Jason Heyward has a .369 wOBA and Freddie Freemon's is .362. Even Michael Bourn's is .357. The Braves bench has been awesome. Eric Hinske (.425), Matt Diaz (.402), and David Ross (.393) are all crushing the ball. Tyler Pastornicky is the only Brave hitter with more than 38 PA to have a wRC+ below 100.

As a team the Cubs are at a .291 wOBA. Bryan LaHair has an impressive .515 wOBA and Steve Clevenger, on the DL for the time being, is even higher at .536. Joe Mather has been excellent as a bench player with a .380 wOBA and Tony Campana (.359) has filled in nicely for Marlon Byrd. Other than Starlin Castro (.359) the next best is David DeJesus at .302. Jeff Baker (.289) and Darwin Barney (.281) are fighting for the next spot. The Cubs have a few who have been pretty good, but most have been rather terrible. Here are some of the starters for the Cubs: Ian Stewart (.258), Alfonso Soriano (.239, not even slugging .300) and Geovany Soto (.235).

Fielding and Baserunning

The Braves have a team 2.6 UZR while the Cubs are 4.0. The Braves are -7 in total zone and the Cubs are 2nd in baseball at 38. The Braves have 2 DRS and the Cubs -4. Overall the Cubs appear to have the better defensive team. Alfonso Soriano has 7.7 of that UZR for the Cubs while Michael Bourn has been the Braves best at 4.4.

The Cubs are 3rd in the league in BsR with 3.2 and the Braves are 5th at 2.7. David DeJesus has been the Cubs best with 1.5 BsR and Ian Stewart the worst with -0.5. No surprise to see Michael Bourn at the top for the Braves with 1.5 BsR. Cody Ross is the worst on the Braves at -0.5.

I predict the Cubs win the middle game of the series while the Braves take the other two.

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