The Jays travel to Hotlanta to take on a pretty good Braves team. Making matters more difficult, Toronto arguably gets the Braves three best starters, while the bluebirds will run out arguably their three worst (by ERA at least). It's a rematch of the 1992 World Series - let's hope that the winners are once again from the true north strong and free. Advance Scout, activate!
Playing the role of the big three for Atlanta will be Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson. Beachy's and Hanson's seasons could actually be termed slightly disappointing, though neither is bad, and Beachy is actually a leading contender for the NL Cy Young award. Hudson turns 37 in a month, and continues to defy age. The Braves will need it, because like all ten East teams they've been dealt a pretty brutal interleague slate. After facing the Jays they get the Yankees at home followed by the Orioles, then they make a return trip to the Bronx and finish off in Fenway. So they'll be looking to do some damage against the Jays, and come in hot, winners of four straight.
Friday: Kyle Drabek vs. Brandon Beachy
Leading things off will be Brandon Beachy, who reminds me a bit of our own Brandon Morrow, at least superficially. Beachy doesn't throw especially hard - he barely touched 93 in his last start, and normally works around 91, but he strikes out a ton of batters, and has very good control, something that Morrow heretofore lacked. Last year Atlanta Brandon actually struck out a higher percentage of batters than Toronto Brandon, and this year both are striking out fewer batters but going deeper into games. Anyway, amongst pitchers that threw 100 innings last year, Beachy struck the highest percentage in the majors (28.6% - Morrow was 6th) and had the highest swinging strike percentage (11.8%; Morrow was 3rd). Coupled with a low walk rate, Beachy was one of the better pitchers in the majors in 2011, with a 3.68 ERA and 3.19 FIP in 141.2 innings. Despite this he received relatively little hype. This year Beachy's FIP has risen slightly to 3.34, but his ERA has dropped to majors-leading 1.87 in 72.1 innings - he's allowed more than 2 earned runs once so far. This has been in large part due to a 100 point drop in BABIP, and a low HR/FB%, because Beachy's K-rate has fallen from an otherworldly 28.6% to a still good 20.1%, while his BB% has basically stayed constant at close to 8%. Instead Beachy is getting by far the most ground balls of his career - 42% - and has dropped his line drive rate considerably. As a result, he's getting fewer swinging strikes - a more normal 7.9% of the time. On the whole, these changes aren't necessarily positive, but Beachy may be able to trade some dominance for more innings, and be a more valuable pitcher overall. We'll see.
Beachy throws a pretty straight but very good four-seam fastball, again from about 89-93, and relies heavily on his 81 MPH slider a lot when he gets to two strikes. He'll throw his curve and his change about 10% of the time each, The change is deployed more against lefties, and they are both pretty decent offerings, though the curve is one of the slowest in the majors, at 72 MPH. Really though the bread and butter is the fastball, which is one of the best in the majors. If you couldn't tell, I really like Beachy, and think he has a chance to be very good. The funny thing about him and his success is that he wasn't actually drafted out of college, and instead signed as a minor league free agent. He didn't exactly light up the minors, and he started out as a reliever before being converted to a starter in his second year, in AA, where he struck out 100 batters in 73.2 innings, but still didn't really draw notice - sort of a Joel Carreno type of deal. He was a September call-up in 2010, after being drafted in 2008, and has constantly succeeded since then since being continually discounted. Well, Jays fans, you are officially on notice for tonight.
Saturday: Drew Hutchison v. Tommy Hanson
Hanson stands in contrast to Beachy amongst Braves pitchers. Hanson was a draft-and-follow out of high school who signed after being drafted in the 22nd round; by the time he reached AA he was considered a top prospect, both in the Braves system and baseball, and threw harder than Beachy. The same age as Beachy, Hanson came up a year and half earlier and succeeded immediately. However, he has declined slightly in three consecutive years, and is currently experiencing the worst season of his career. Much of this is probably chalked up to a previous injury. Hanson was around 92-93 when he broke into the big leagues, but sat around 91 last year and 89-90 this year. He missed the last two months of 2011 with a shoulder ligament problem (after a period of sustained awfulness), and doesn't seem to have fully recovered. He's striking out fewer batters this year (although he's still at a good rate, after being top-5 last year) and walking slightly more. Hanson throws a (now) 90 MPH fastball, coupled with a heavily used and extremely good slider around 82 and a really slow curveball, again around 72. He might throw 2 change ups a game.
Sunday: Ricky Romero v. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson never threw especially hard, instead relying on a heavy sinking fastball, so "Huddy's" continued success shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Except for a random season in 2004, Hudson is striking out the fewest batters of his career, coupled with a walk rate a couple of ticks below his career average. He's only getting 57.4% of his outs on the ground, compared to several banner years between 59-64%, but it seems to still be doing the trick (it is in fact a very good number, on its own). Hudson walks 2.5/9 IP and has allowed 1 home run in 54 innings, so you basically have to beat him by stringing a bunch of hits together, which can be easier said than done. Pay attention, Henderson Alvarez. Hudson missed the first couple games of the season, but as described, seems to have recovered just fine. To augment his sinker, Hudson relies heavily on a cutter that he often throws with two strikes. The curve (high-70s) and splitter (around 80) are both used more frequently against lefties. Career Jose Bautista is 3/11, EE 3/12, Colby Rasmus 5/11 and Omar Vizquel 11/35.
Michael Bourn CF
Martin Prado 3B
Brian McCann C
Dan Uggla 2B
Freddie Freeman 1B
Jason Heyward RF
Andrelton Simmons SS
Jose Constanza LF
The pitcher hits either 8th or 9th, depending on who's pitching I believe; The Dude (Eric Hinske) might start at first on Friday as Freddie Freeman took a ball off the finger on Wednesday, though x-rays were negative, while Matt Diaz will likely spell Constanza against Romero.
Former Jay minor-leaguer Tyler Pastornicky has been sent down after starting the season as the Braves shortstop. He's been replaced by top prospect Andrelton Simmons, whose defense is rated more highly than our own Adeiny Hechavarria. Simmons has a decent bat but lacks power, but with his defense at short figures to stick for a while... Brian McCann is back in the lineup after missing a game with a leg contusion. McCann is consistently one of the best catchers in baseball, because he is a good hitter and because he basically plays more than every other catcher, sitting a couple of times a month. He's one of four catchers to play 400 games between 2009-2011, and is a close second to Joe Mauer in WAR during that time period (and they're breaking away from the pack). He is having a bit of a down season, so far. The indefatigable Chipper Jones has been on the 15-day DL, also with a leg contusion, and begins a rehab assignment tonight. In theory he could be up as soon as Sunday's game... Martin Prado has an OBP just shy of .400 and is having quite a lovely season. He was the starting left fielder, but with Chipper Jones out and alternate third baseman Juan Francisco nursing a hamstring injury, he's been manning the hot corner. How Bautistian...Jason Heyward had a wOBA of .360 in April, .302 in May, and now .480 in June (albeit in 19 AB)... I rarely mention bullpens, but it's worth pointing out that Craig Kimbrel has 34 strikeouts in 21 innings, and a FIP of almost 1, which I basically thought was impossible... Some enterprising soul started selling "Atlanta Barves" shirts and donating the profits to charity, but quickly got shut down by MLB. I would have bought one.
Infirmary: Chipper (3B) has a leg contusion and could be back as soon as Sunday. Peter Moylan (P) and Robert Fish (P) are both TBD in terms of returning, while Arodys Vizcaino (P) is out for the year with TJ.
Song to Advance Scout By: It seems fitting, so here's self-proclaimed King of the South T.I. with his 2009 hit, Whatever You Like. I would like for the Jays to beat the Braves!
Chart: Chart! Shout out to Fangraphs.