Brewers @ Braves series preview

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Brewers travel to Atlanta looking to avenge the loss of their season series opener. The Braves rotation is going to have something to say about that.

The Braves remind me a lot of the Brewers this year. It doesn't seem to be my imagination either. According to overall team fWAR, the Braves rank 13th and the Brewers are right behind them at 14th. If I had to quickly sum up either club I say they have excellent pitching and as yet shaky offenses.

They're separated by 0.2 fWAR. In terms of starting pitching the Braves have the advantage. They're ranked 4th with a 4.6 fWAR. The Brewers used to be right behind them, but now are ranked 19th with a 2.6 fWAR. The one problem I have with fWAR is that it uses FIP to derive it's value. My problem is that I think FIP undervalues pitchers like Lohse and Peralta (and maybe Gallardo this year). They're pitchers who don't try to get strikeouts. Instead they attempt to induce poor contact and it's working so far. That being said, if you want to make the argument the Braves rotation is better I won't say you're wrong. I'll just say the Brewers rotation is better than one might think by looking at the numbers.

The two bullpens are a lot closer in talent this year. The Braves rank 4th with a 2.0 fWAR but the Brewers are only 2 spots back at 6th with 1.6. Again, I think fWAR isn't the best for evaluating relievers because of the sample size. I think the best indicator of quality here is the strikeout rate. Braves rank 1st with a 27.5 K% and the Brewers rank 3rd with a 26.9 K%. Both clubs have the same 8.1 BB%. The Brewers' pen has a better BAA and WHIP.

The real difference between the two teams is their offenses. To date both have been well below average. Braves rank 28th with their 83 wRC+ while the Brewers are 23 with their 88 wRC+. The Braves top offensive threats are Justin Upton (150 wRC+) and Freddie Freeman (159 wRC+).  Outside of those two however, only Evan Gattis (110 wRC+) has a wRC+ above 92. That's Andrelton Simmons. After that there is a sharp drop off to 79 wRC+ and below. The Brewers have 3 regulars (Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, and Jonathan Lucroy) that are well above 100 wRC+. Then after that they have some part time contributors that have done well. Their drop off in production further down the lineup isn't quite as precipitous as the Braves. I think that's their advantage.

Monday, May 19th 6:10 pm: Wily Peralta vs Mike Minor

It's beginning to look like Minor's breakout 2013 season might have been an outlier. He's coming back from an injury and has only started in 3 games so the jury is still out. He has a decent 21.6 K% and very solid 5.4 BB%, but he has a .300 BAA and a 1.47 WHIP. Batters are crushing nearly everything that finds it's way into the strike zone to the tune of 94.8%. As long as the Brewers don't swing a too many pitches out of the zone I like their chances.

Of note for the Brewers: I saw tonight's lineup. Rickie Weeks is back in which is good. Gomez is back for the first time since hurting his back and going on suspension. Also, Martin Maldonado is catching while Jonathan Lucroy is playing first base. I like all those things quite a lot. I think the Brewers are going to win tonight with that offense. Every time Peralta pitches he seems to make a better argument for him being the best starter in the rotation. I expect that will continue tonight.

Tuesday, May 20th 6:10 pm: Yovani Gallardo vs Julio Teheran

Teheran's 19.7 K% isn't impressive and neither is his 1.19 K/9. This year Teheran seems to be getting through games, by inducing poor contact. He has an excellent .195 BAA and 0.96 WHIP. I think Teheran is a good pitcher, but that BAA and WHIP just don't seem sustainable. His FIP is 1.90 points higher than his ERA which suggests I'm right. However I'm not sure the Brewers are the team to change that.

Of note for the Brewers: The first time Gallardo faced the Braves was the only time the Brewers beat them in the season opener. He pitched 6 innings without giving up a single run. If he can do that again, it'll go a long way towards getting a win as I don't think the offense is going to help much.

Wednesday, May 21st 6:10 pm: Kyle Lohse vs Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana was the boy nobody wanted this winter. The Braves only signed him because their rotation was blown up by injury. Ervin Santana seems to be taking out his winter frustration on everyone that didn't sign him. He's freaking destroying batters with a 25.6 K%, a 5.6% BB%, a magnificent 0.36 HR/9, .247 BAA, and a solid 1.14 WHIP. If there's any hope at all it comes from out greatest enemy. In Santana's last start he gave up 5 runs to the Cardinals. It was he worst start of the year so maybe he'll continue struggling against the Brewers.

Of note for the Brewers: Lohse has yet to give up more than 3 runs in a start. Much like last time, I don't see that changing Wednesday night.

Thursday, May 22nd 6:10 pm: Matt Garza vs Aaron Harang

Aaron Harang was replaced by either an alien being or perhaps an android. I'm not sure which but I know this is not Aaron Harang. His K% has improved by several magnitudes. His previous high was 23% way back in 2007. This year he has a 26.6 K%!!! That seem high? Well it is. That's tied for the 10th best rate in the major leagues. He's tied with David Price. What the frak is going? I have no idea but he's backing up that K rate with low HR numbers and a solid .225 BAA and 1.16 WHIP. Also, it's not like his .308 BABIP explains any of this. The one major difference I've noticed is that he's using his cutter far more than ever before.

Of note for the Brewers: The Brewers were nearly no-hit by Harang the first time they met this season. Matt Garza has been the Brewers least effective starter this year. The math doesn't add up favorably for the Brewers in this game...

Prediction

The Brewers have scored an average of 3.84 runs per game and allowed an average of 3.61. The Braves score an average of 3.21 runs per game and allow an average of 3.19. The Brewers offense is already better than the Braves' and I still don't think it's anywhere near it's potential. Braun and Gomez will be back in the lineup for the first time in a long while. That's a good thing. I'm also very confident in 3 of the 4 starters the Brewers are putting out there this series and I still believe Garza is going to turn things around sooner or later. I think the Brewers have a really good shot at winning the opener. From there it gets harder, but I think they can at least split the series.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

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