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April 24, 2013

What You Need to Know

Bash Brothers

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
It didn’t take long for the Braves, who arrived in Colorado with the bitter taste of three consecutive losses at the hands of the Pirates in their mouths, to wash the skid away and begin a new string of wins. Both teams entered Tuesday’s doubleheader with a 13-5 ledger, tops in the National League, but after snagging both ends of the twin bill, Fredi Gonzalez’s squad is back to looking like the class of the senior circuit.

If the awards voting for the 2013 season were held today, Justin Upton might take home the hardware in unanimous fashion. With nine homers already under his belt, the right fielder took full advantage of the thin air at Coors Field on Tuesday, smacking a round tripper in both games to extend his major-league lead. Meanwhile, although the elder B.J. Upton is batting a far more pedestrian .160/.229/.320, he had a hand in enhancing the significance of his brother’s fifth-inning blast.

The Upton siblings previously made history on April 6, when B.J. delivered a game-tying home run leading off the ninth inning and Justin sent the Turner Field fans home happy with a walk-off shot minutes later. On that night, they became the first pair of brothers in major-league history to turn a defeat into a victory in that thrilling style. Last night, they joined Lloyd Waner and Paul Waner as the second brotherly duo to produce back-to-back jacks—and since Justin’s solo shot to right-center field came on the first offering he saw from Jon Garland, the Uptons did their yardwork on consecutive pitches.

Those two taters pushed the Braves’ lead in the nightcap to 5-2, and a four-run ninth inning brought it to 10-2, the game’s final score. Coupled with a 4-3 victory in the matinee, the sweep improved Atlanta’s road record to 9-3; no other National League team has yet earned more than five victories on the road without losing at least six along the way.

Freddie Freeman came off the disabled list on Tuesday, but Jason Heyward—who underwent an appendectomy on Monday—took his place on it. Yet, amid the latest dose of adversity, the Braves just kept on rolling. They’ll go for their fourth sweep of the season behind Tim Hudson, who has allowed only four home runs in 64 1/3 innings at Coors Field, this afternoon (3:10 p.m. ET).

Matchup of the Day
After a strong 2012 season, in which Brandon Morrow posted a career-low 2.96 ERA, the right-hander’s 2013 is off to an inauspicious start, as he has coughed up at least five runs in two of his last three outings. The 28-year-old’s .361 BABIP portends improved results, but his 31.6 percent ground-ball rate, the sixth-lowest among all starting pitchers in the early going, must tick up in order for him to more effectively keep the ball in the yard.

Morrow fared relatively well against the Orioles last year, holding them to nine earned runs on 19 hits while amassing a 25-to-7 K:BB over 24 innings, but he was unable to contain Adam Jones, who went 6-for-11 with two home runs in those four games. If Morrow is to turn around his 2013 season tonight, he’ll need to find an answer for Baltimore’s center fielder, who went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts on Tuesday but carries a robust .354/.376/.549 triple-slash line into this evening’s contest.

Among hitters who have faced Morrow at least 25 times in their careers, Jones’ 1.183 OPS stands head and shoulders above the rest, with his teammate, Nick Markakis, ranking second at 839. Jones is 11-for-28 lifetimes versus Morrow with a double and three homers, though he has struck out six times and never walked.

All three of the big flies came on poorly placed fastballs, grooved in locations where Jones—a very good hard-stuff hitter—is at his most dangerous. The first, which came on the second pitch of Jones’ third at-bat on August 6, 2008, was the fate of a four-seamer that could scarcely have been closer to the heart of the zone. The second, four head-to-head plate appearances later, on April 13, 2012, came on a belt-high offering that immediately followed a backed-up slider. And the third, in their most recent meeting, on September 5, 2012, was a fastball right down Broadway, a spot where Jones’ career TAv versus heaters is nearly .400.

This one isn’t rocket science: If Morrow is to right his ship tonight, the key will be better command of his fastball, which has had its familiar 94-mph bite, but has also been the culprit on all four of the gopher balls he has served up this year. Given their history, Morrow’s ability to retire Jones could serve as a useful barometer of his progress (12:35 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Mat Latos has logged four starts this year, pitched at least six innings in each of them, amassed a 2.73 ERA that is markedly better than his 4.92 career mark in April, and, somehow, made it this far into the season without picking up a decision. J.J. Hoover and Jonathan Broxton combined to blow a late lead in his first outing; the Reds needed a nine-run ninth inning to win his second; Broxton melted down to cost him a win in his third; and Kevin Slowey matched Latos to leave him with a no-decision in his fourth. The 25-year-old will try again to earn his first victory of the season in today’s matinee against the Cubs, who will counter with Jeff Samardzija to set up a duel of hard-throwing righties (12:35 p.m. ET).
     
  • Tonight's series opener between the Royals and Tigers, which was postponed due to rain on Tuesday, features a pair of right-handers coming off of strong outings. Wade Davis has kept opponents off the scoreboard in 12 innings over his last two starts, including a seven-inning effort against the Braves on April 17, in which he struck out seven without issuing a walk. Max Scherzer, meanwhile, has fanned 23 batters over his last 14 frames, including 12 in an eight-inning, one-run outing against the Mariners the same day Davis dominated the Braves. Each will look to maintain his hot streak as they go toe-to-toe at Comerica Park (7:08 p.m. ET).
  • As I wrote in Monday’s WYNTK, Ted Lilly is set to become the eighth starting pitcher used by manager Don Mattingly and the Dodgers this season when he takes the mound in tonight’s matchup with Matt Harvey and the Mets. Lilly, who is coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, last pitched in the majors on May 23, 2012. Meanwhile, his opposite number, Harvey, might be the early frontrunner for National League Cy Young Award honors, with a 0.93 ERA and 32-to-9 K:BB through four starts. Harvey has permitted four or fewer hits in each of those seven-plus-inning starts, becoming the fourth pitcher to accomplish the feat since 1916. Tonight will mark his first career test against the Dodgers (7:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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