August 12, 2009 at 11:13 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Philthies, Series Preview
People ask me all the time if this game is a “must-win”? Or if this series is a “must-win”? It’s usually a very idiotic question, of course, because it’s not like this is the one game or this is the one series that if you don’t win, you have no chance of making the playoffs. Game 163. There’s a must-win. An elimination game. There’s a must-win. Tied in the loss column with 1 to play and the team you’re chasing finished? That is a must-win. But when you’ve got 100, or 50, or even 20 games left, nothing is a “must-win” in the truest sense of the word. And I’m a literal person, if you didn’t know. That is–I take things literally. If you didn’t know.
Throwing all the sports-journalist-talking-point-puppy-fluff-emotional-nonobjective crap out the door (things usually don’t piss me off more than journalist’s nonobjective bullshit) , this is an important series. I don’t know what the standings will look like going into the series. The Braves will be between 4 and 6 games out in the loss column. They have a chance to make up major ground. By the same token, they have a chance to eff the goat and piss away a great deal of ground they’ve fought for over a month to gain. Doing the former would do wonders while doing the latter would be devastating. And you don’t need me to rattle off statistics to know this.
The Phillies are a very good team. Make no mistake about it. You can try to poke holes in it. You won’t get very far. They’re a very good team. Are they better than the Braves? I don’t know. The Braves are a very good team too.
I’ll preview the series.
Game 1. Friday, August 14. Jair Jurrjens vs. Joe Blanton.
Jurrjens comes into this game pitching like horse shit in his last two starts–both against the Dodgers. Jurrjens gave up a combined 17 hits, 5 walks, 8 ER, and struck out 10 in 9 and 1/3 innings pitched. His previous season-low game score was 35. He tallied 34 and 33 in these two. It’s been very unlike him. He’s pitched pretty well all year and hasn’t had an extended (more than 1 start) stretch of suckage. Hopefully he’ll pitch well, like I know he’s capable of. It wasn’t a stretch that was hard to see coming if you looked close enough, though. BABIP neutral, he’s been better against left-handed batters this season. Reason being is he lacks a true out pitch to right-handed hitters. When he has the slider (which is sketchier than hit or miss), he handles them fine. Otherwise? He’ll keep getting 0-2, 0-2, 0-2, and fail to put them away. We saw this in both of his starts against the Dodgers. The whole time. The Dodgers are largely a right-handed hitting team. Their only dangerous lefties are Loney and Ethier. Right-handed they’ve got Manny, Kemp, Casey Blake, and Russel Martin with 2 switch-hitters. He nearly always has the good change-up, which can do a number on left-handed hitters. Good thing Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez all hit left-handed.
Joe Blanton has been a solid starter. Just the blue-collar, run of the mill, strike-throwing, consistent, never great pitcher. It’s not that he’s unbeatable, it’s that you have to beat him. Waiting for him to hand you the game will largely resemble a famous Samuel Beckett play. Ultimately beatable, though. If good Jurrjens shows up, and I hope he will, this is a very winnable game.
Game 2. Saturday, August 15. Kenshin Kawakami vs. Cole Hamels.
You never know what you’re going to get with Kenshin Kawakami. I could put a Forest Gump reference there, but I figure I’ll let the reader just fill in the blank. He threw a minimal quality start (6.0 IP, 3 ER) against the Padres two outings ago before shutting out the Dodgers through 7 in his last start. In his only start against Philly (at their shitty joke of a ballpark), he pitched 6 innings allowing 9 baserunners but only 2 runs against all odds. He was credited with the win in that game. He has sort of this reputation as a “big game pitcher” because he seems to do well when the stakes are high (like when you’re facing the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers or Cubs or Phillies or Roy Halladay). Probably all crap, but I hope the stereotype holds up against the Phillies.
Hamels has fared worse than Jurrjens over his past 2 starts. He’s given up a combined 15 hits and 6 walks with only 6 (!) K’s and 11 runs (10 ER) in his past 2 starts over 10 and 1/3 innings. He’s had stretches like this all season, though. The curse of the contract! (Which is total bullshit, by the way). Left-handed hitters have hit him a little better than right-handers in his career. Again, because his curveball sucks and his change-up is dynamite. Good thing like every Braves player ever hits left-handed. Except Yunel.
Impossible to predict which Hamels or which Kawakami will show up.
Game 3. Sunday, August 16. Javier Vazquez vs. J.A. Happ
Say what you will about Happ’s record and ERA, but both of those are nothing more than a delusion and the Braves should certainly win with Vazquez pitching. Vazquez has been great all season. No need to preview him. You already know.
Happ, on the other hand, has been great at nothing other than getting lucky. Low BABIP and high strand rate. He hasn’t been good at getting ground balls, striking out batters (well, not exceptionally good, 89 K’s in 121 IP), limiting line drives, or being stingy with walks. As I mentioned, his ERA is a delusion, and he isn’t all that good. A very winnable game.
So, a sweep is possible. And this series is important. Let’s hope it happens. Missing Cliff Lee is huge.