Braves/Reds In Weekend War

BIG PENNANT RACE GAMES ON TAP FOR WEEKEND TV

We may be seeing some contenders fall by the wayside now that the pennant races have picked up steam after the All-Star Break. The Tampa Bay Rays had a disappointing homestand against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees…sending them sailing off in the wrong direction for the time being. The Cincinnati Reds are in danger of having the same thing happen to them.

  • Cincinnati just lost two of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, managing just three TOTAL runs on their trip.
  • Cincinnati now has to host the very strong Atlanta Braves this weekend, with Saturday afternoon's game being televised by FOX, and Sunday Night's game going national on ESPN.

We showed you that the Reds were clinging by their fingertips in the NL Central race a few days ago. A bad weekend, and they may fall off the pace in the same way Tampa Bay has over in the AL East. By Monday, we'll probably know whether the Reds are just another victim to be picked off in a horror movie…or whether last year's divisional champs have a chance to surge back into the mix with some authority.

As we approach this Atlanta/Cincinnati series, it's important to have a real sense of where these teams stand. Everyone knows the Braves are playing well, and currently holding the NL Wildcard spot very firmly. Everyone knows the Reds made the playoffs last year, and are still alive this year in their divisional race. When you stick their records side by side though, it's questionable whether or not these teams truly belong in the same discussion.

THROUGH WEDNESDAY
Atlanta: 57-41
Cincinnati: 48-50

Upon completion of Cincinnati's series in Pittsburgh, both of these teams had played exactly 98 games. And, the Braves were clearly the better side. Atlanta held a whopping NINE GAME LEAD over the Reds! If Atlanta played in the NL Central, that wouldn't look like much of a pennant race right now. If Cincinnati played in the NL East…well, let's stick them in there and see what it looks like.

NL EAST PLUS CINCY (through Wednesday's games)
Philadelphia 61-36
Atlanta 57-41
NY Mets 49-48
Washington 48-50
Cincinnati 48-50
Florida 47-51

Media perceptions of the Reds this year may be unduly influenced by their weak division. Stick them in the NL East, and you're looking at a team that's obviously in the class of the Mets, Nationals, and Marlins rather than real playoff contenders. The Reds would only be a game ahead of last place if they were in the East!

As we mentioned the other day, there may be some extenuating circumstances with the Reds. They've had horrible fortune in one-run games this year.

CINCINNATI REDS
One-Run Games: 14-22
All Other Games: 34-28

Typically .500 type teams will play .500 type ball in nailbiters, and the overall records will align to a slightly lesser degree. Great teams will have good one-run records (not great but good). Horrible teams will have poor one-run records (not horrible, but poor). When this doesn't happen, it's usually luck rather than anything else mucking up the numbers.

In other words, Cincinnati's probably been a bit unlucky this year. They're probably a touch better than those four NL East teams we just listed, even if they're not up to Philly and Atlanta. Let's exclude one-run games and see what we get:

EXCLUDING ONE-RUN GAMES
Philadelphia 44-27
Atlanta 40-25
Cincinnati 34-28
NY Mets 38-35
Washington 30-29
Florida 30-31

Your personal team Power Ratings should probably have the Reds higher than their record suggests, if still not in the class of the very best. And, heading into this weekend series, you shouldn't think of the Braves as being NINE games better than the Reds. More like five games, maybe six if you make a mental adjustment for schedule strength.

With that in mind, let's look at the projected pitching matchups…

FRIDAY
Atlanta: Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 2.26 ERA)
Cincinnati: Bronson Arroyo (7-8, 5.57 ERA)

All-Star Jurrjens has a very low WHIP of 1.11 this season, but is coming off a rare bad outing vs. Washington. Going 10 days between starts during the ASB may have messed up his rhythm. We'll see Friday Night whether it was just rust the last time out, or if there's some new injury development. Arroyo is having a bad year, and is coming off four very poor starts. He allowed 9 home runs in those four starts! Jurrjens clearly has a big edge in this matchup if both pitchers match their full season form. The Reds have a rest advantage though after taking Thursday off. Braves hitters were playing in Colorado Thursday afternoon, then had to catch a plane for Cincinnati. That could give the Reds a puncher's chance of starting the weekend off well.

SATURDAY
Atlanta: Derek Lowe (6-7, 4.37 ERA)
Cincinnati: Homer Bailey (4-4, 3.74 ERA)

Lowe has been a disappointment this year. His ERA is a half run higher than his career mark, even though this is a season where many pitchers are lowering their ERA's for whatever reason (de-juiced baseballs!). He's taken a step back when everyone else is taking a step forward. Many new guys making their debuts in 2011 are pitching much better than Lowe. Homer Bailey is actually a great example of what we're talking about. His career ERA was near 5.00 entering the season, and the once very hot prospect was suddenly on the verge of losing his chance. Bailey's WHIP this year is a tidy 1.17. Atlanta may have the better team, but the Reds enter this TV game with the more effective pitcher of late. Don't forget that mid-afternoon shadows may be a factor because of the odd starting time. 

SUNDAY NIGHT
Atlanta: Brandon Beachy (3-2, 3.75 ERA)
Cincinnati: Dontrelle Willis (0-1, 3.38 ERA)

Maybe the ultimate test for pitching conditions in 2011 will be whether or not Dontrelle Willis can salvage his career. He hasn't been a reasonable rotation option since 2006, with various teams taking a shot on the talented lefty only to find out he hadn't overcome various maladies and issues. It's easy to root for Willis to find his early career form. Sunday Night's game will be a good test for a guy who's held his own through two prior starts in 2011. Beachy has been an interesting pitcher to follow. He has 81 strikeouts in just 72 innings, which puts him up amongst the NL's best in K-rate. His WHIP is a strong 1.21. Yet, his ERA is still 3.75 when those numbers are often more connected to an ace caliber pitcher who's down around 2.50. Home runs have been an issue, with 11 dingers allowed in 13 games. We'd give the edge to Beachy on the whole, and we'll have to think about the Over here given the home run tendencies of both pitchers.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK find you the best plays on the board each and every day, regardless of whether or not they're on TV.  We can tell you that we do like tonight's Atlanta-Cincinnati game on MLB-TV as part of a Friday night package and we're still looking at the Saturday and Sunday games. Other marquee series we're looking at this weekend:

St. Louis at Pittsburgh (huge!)
Milwaukee at San Francisco
Chicago White Sox at Cleveland
Detroit at Minnesota

We'll also be on the lookout for live dog possibilities against high priced home favorites in series like San Diego/Philadelphia, Seattle/Boston, Oakland/NY Yankees, and Toronto/Texas. The Rangers in particular are overdue to lose a game or two.

You can purchase our top plays daily here at the website with your credit card. Or, get the most bang for you buck by signing up for the rest of the baseball season. If you have any questions, call the NETWORK office at 1-800-323-4453.

Our college football conference previews resume tomorrow with the Atlantic Coast Conference. We'll look at the Atlantic Division with Florida State, NC State, and Clemson on Saturday (Florida State has been picked as a top five team by Athlon!). Sunday we move to the Coastal Division with Virginia Tech, Miami of Florida, and North Carolina. Be sure you're printing these out every weekend so you'll have them handy for the start of the season. Check the archives for previous reports on the newly expanded Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences, as well as the SEC. We'll finish off July with the Big East and newly shrunken Big 12 next weekend. Early bird rates are still available in football.

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Nov

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