Home Series 14 Preview: Cubs vs. Braves
In his last 25 games, 2014 All-Star Freddie Freeman has hit .370/.434/.570. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty)
At the season’s outset, it appeared offense would be the Braves’ strength, as their lineup was littered with power bats, but they had numerous question marks in the rotation. As usual in baseball, it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. The Braves pull into Wrigley Field tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East chiefly on the backs of that suspect rotation, much of which was thrown together late in the offseason after the team lost two big arms to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. But with some key players struggling, the offense has taken a step back from 2013, when it ranked fourth in the NL in runs per game. One veteran has already been displaced from his starting position.
(3.6 RA/G, 4th IN NL)
The Braves lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season even began, but that hasn’t stopped the staff from being one of the best in the game. Aaron Harang has probably pitched above his head early in the year, but his performance has still been a revelation. Ervin Santana was another late-spring addition, and while he’s been inconsistent, he is still a reliable innings eater. The Cubs will see three young pitchers in this series in lefties Alex Wood and Mike Minor, as well as 2014 All-Star righty Julio Teheran. Friday’s starter, Wood, has shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation this year, but is back in a much more comfortable starting role, where he can use his full assortment of pitches and funky delivery to keep hitters off balance. The usually reliable lefty Minor has struggled since the end of last season and comes into Saturday’s start with a 2-5 record and 4.54 ERA. However, the biggest development this season has been Julio Teheran’s emergence as the staff’s ace. The 22-year-old currently sports an 8-6 record with a 2.57 ERA. The bullpen looks a bit different from previous years, but it’s still strong, with outstanding closer and NL saves leader Craig Kimbrel anchoring the back end.
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)
Dan Uggla has never been a batting average guy, but that was always offset by his tremendous power. However, after the second baseman slugged just .362 in 2013 and suffered a continued power outage in 2014, the Braves finally called up youngster Tommy La Stella to take over the keystone in late May. La Stella doesn’t have the power Uggla displayed in his prime, but he has a great approach and can flat out hit. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it isn’t just Uggla struggling at the plate. Chris Johnson has failed to repeat his BABIP-fueled 2013 line of .321/.358/.457; the Upton brothers continue to strike out at an alarming rate; and former top prospect Jason Heyward hasn’t shown the power many expected of him when he first came up. The Braves are also without slugging catcher Evan Gattis for the foreseeable future. This offense was designed to be heavy on power bats, but it’s struggling to hit home runs and hasn’t yet figured out how to play small ball. So far this year, the Braves attack relies heavily on All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman. When he’s hot, the offense will score some runs. If you can hold him down, it struggles.