Astros @ Braves
Astros: 89-73 693 RS(11th) 609 RA(1st)
Braves: 90-72 769 RS(4th) 674 RA(5th)
At this point, you’d have to be an idiot to either bet against the Braves during the regular season or to bet on them in the postseason. So even though I resisted the temptation to hop on the Marlin bandwagon or overly cream myself over the Mets’ signing of Pedro this offseason, I am in fact an idiot, because I think that these Braves are going all the way.
Fortunately, I won’t have to wait very long to confirm this stupidity, since the only team out there that is likely to beat Atlanta is Houston in a 5-game series. As Clemens and Pettitte are 1 & 2 in all of baseball in ERA by a wide margin, the Astros are deadly in a short series. Oh, and having Roy Oswalt (20-12 2.94 184K) pitch in Game 3 isn’t too terrible a thing either. The Astros minus Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio are formidable indeed, as are the Astros since mid-May.
And why am I so high on the 90-win Braves? Well apart from being the most balanced non-Cardinal team in the postseason, they are at their most potent right now. Injuries forced Tim Hudson to miss several starts, limited John Thompson to just 17 starts, and sidelined Chipper Jones for 50 games. They’re all back and productive now. New Closer Kyle Farnsworth has an ERA under 2.00 since joining the Braves in July. No more at bats are being wasted on Raul Mondesi (hit .211 in 142 AB) and very few are being wasted on Brian Jordan (.632 OPS in 231 AB). Instead, a bundle of promising youngsters are getting the nod from best-judge-of-talent-ever Bobby Cox, listed here in order of OPS: Jeff Francoeur (.884) Wilson Betemit (.794), Ryan Langerhans (.774), and Brian McCann (.745).
Only four regulars on the Astros have OPSs over .745. In terms of big thumpers, the Braves and Astros match up very well against each other. But the Astros have some gaping holes in their lineup whereas the only position tha Atlanta doesn’t get good at bats from is catcher.
Don’t forget that while Atlanta (or anyone else) cannot boast a trio as dominant as Pettitte/Clemens/Oswalt, Hudson and Smoltz is as good as any other duo in baseball. Much in this series will be determined by whether or not these aces can go on three days of rest. If the Astros have to use Backe (or worse) in this series, they’re in big trouble. The Braves could probably get by with Thompson in game 4, but if they fall behind 2-1, Cox may panic and go to Hudson, whose two career games against the Astros total 15 Ks, 1 BB, a 0.56 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. In that case, we’ll see whether sinkerballers really do pitch more effectively when tired (Pettitte is a sinkerballer also).
This series could certainly go either way, but the Braves have the home field advantage to go with their 53-28 home record this year and the Astros’ 36-45 road record. That might be enough to give Atlanta the edge and catapult them to their first World Championship in a decade.
Prediction: Braves in five