Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Series Preview: Atlanta
2006-05-01 14:03
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies look to continue their sizzling road play against the Braves, who at 10-14 look like the rest of the NL East has finally caught up to them. Well, not the Nationals or the Marlins. But after a month of play, Atlanta is already six games behind the New York Mets, tied with Philadelphia for a distant second. The next biggest division lead in baseball is a game and a half, which is what separates the Rockies from San Francisco and the White Sox from Detroit. So, yeah, the Mets are in good shape. In fact, they have a better than 80% chance of making the playoffs according to the just-published Baseball Prospectus playoff odds report. Who else looks good according to the number-crunchers? Well, the Yankees lead the field at 84.2% (despite not leading their division) and the only other teams with better than even odds are the Mets, Milwaukee (63.5%), and Detroit (78.5%). That's pretty interesting. In five of the six divisions, the current leader isn't the statistical favorite. The NL West looks to be a four-team race with Colorado (23.5%), Arizona (31.9%), San Francisco (20.2%), and Los Angeles (29.7%) all having decent chances for a playoff berth. Last year's champs, the Padres, have likely already buried themselves (5.5%). For the record, the Royals' chance of making the playoffs is listed as slightly less than 0.02%. The Devil Rays and Pirates also make it fewer than 1 time in 100, although thanks to a run differential that's much better than their record indicates, the Marlins are at 2.2%.

The Braves' likelihood of continuing their remarkable division title streak is posted by BP at right around 13%. Do the numbers lie? Well, the Braves were lucky to win the division last year and the party's got to end some time. Many of the same problems that troubled Atlanta last season persist into 2006. Chipper Jones is still injury-prone, the bullpen is still a sore spot, and the offense is overly dependent on far too many unproven players. Andruw Jones (.281/.365/.607, 8 home runs) continues to carry the team. Edgar Renteria (.412 OBP) is having a nice little bounceback season after his bad-fit situation in Boston. Ryan Langerhans and Brian McCann represent the positive side of the Braves' youth movement. Unfortunately, too many other young guys -- Adam LaRoche, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Francoeur -- are struggling. (It doesn't help matters that Marcus Giles has started the season in a slump as well.) Like the Rockies, the Braves have already called up everyone in the high minors who was even remotely close to being ready for major league service, so they lack for Plan B's all around the diamond. By all rights last year should have seen the end of the Braves' run. It's remarkable, and a credit to Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, that they were able to wrest one more division title away from the Mets and Phillies. It's a sign of the overall health of this organization that they didn't spend too much money last offseason trying to stave off the inevitable. They're the Braves. They'll be good again fairly soon the way they draft, and for this franchise the term "lean years" is entirely relative. In fact, they could still win the division this year if a few of the old guys on the Mets go the way of all the old guys on the Dodgers.

One of the things they're obviously working on is developing some young arms to fill in their bullpen, which is presently anchored by 40-year-old Mike Remlinger. Chris Reitsma, whom they were never more than lukewarm on going into the season, remains the closer but they have high hopes for Joey Devine, who didn't get off to the best of starts (7 runs in two appearances before they mercifully sent him back to Richmond). They've got a pool of young guys playing pretty well at the moment, including Oscar Villareal, Chuck James, and Lance (Not Rheal) Cormier. Pretty much everybody still with the team has pitched better than Reitsma (5.59 ERA, 3.72 K/9, 1.66 WHIP). Overall they're 11th in the NL in bullpen ERA and 14th in relievers' strikeouts per nine. Do they miss Leo Mazzone that badly? It's still too early to tell, although the starters' ERA of 4.61 is an un-Braves-like 8th as well.

The starters are John Smoltz, Kyle Davies, Tim Hudson, Jorge Sosa, and John (No "P") Thomson. Not a bad group, but again, a little un-Braves-like. Hudson in particular hasn't been all they thought he could be since they acquired him from Oakland. Thomson on the other hand has been inhuman lately, having allowed only two earned runs in four starts thus far. Young turk Davies has some nice numbers (1.11 WHIP) and some scary ones (7 homers allowed in 30 2/3 innings). The Rockies will face Hudson and the 0-4 Sosa with Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook.

Are two-game series like doubleheaders? Do they nearly always result in splits? I don't have an answer for you. I suspect however that this series will end in a split.

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