Game 21 Preview: Braves at Tigers

Marc Serota

The Tigers open interleague play with a three game series against the Atlanta Braves. The two teams have not faced each other since 2010.

Atlanta Braves (15-6) at Detroit Tigers (10-10)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Talking Chop

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Paul Maholm (3-1, 1.03 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 1.75 ERA)

Maholm has been one of the big surprises of the 2013 season, winning his first three starts and not allowing a run in his first 26 2/3 innings pitched. The Pittsburgh Pirates finally tagged him with three runs in his last start, handing Maholm his first loss of the year. How has he done it? By limiting line drives and keeping the ball in the park. Opposing batters have a 17.2% line drive rate off him this season, well below the figures in the 21-22% range he has posted over the last couple seasons. In addition, he has only allowed one home run. His strikeout rate is elevated, his BABIP is .212, and he is stranding 93.5% of runners on base. He will regress at some point, but there's no telling that it will be today.

In case the above paragraph didn't give you enough pause about what we're going to see tonight, this may: Maholm is a soft-tossing lefty. He throws a combination of fastballs that all sit in the high 80s, including a two-seamer that he throws 35% of the time. He will also mix in a slider, curveball, and changeup. The slider comes out primarily against left-handed hitters; he threw it 28% of the time against them last season, compared to just 9% against righties. He is throwing his curveball more often this season, using it 20% of the time against lefties and 11% of the time against righties. Whether this is an actual shift in his arsenal or PitchFX classifying the pitches wrong doesn't matter, he's eating up lefties in 2013.

Andrelton Simmons is going to do something ridiculous this weekend

Andreltonsimmons_medium

Prepare yourself accordingly.

Other Braves doing ridiculous things

You probably already know that Justin Upton leads the majors with 11 home runs and is basically a one-man wrecking ball at the plate right now, but catcher Evan Gattis and third baseman Chris Johnson have put up some monster numbers as well. Gattis has six home runs filling in for the injured Brian McCann, while Johnson is hitting .397/.424/.556 in 66 plate appearances. With Freddie Freeman returning to the lineup, this is much more than a one Upton show.

Outlook

The Braves are coming in on somewhat of a skid, losing five of their last eight games. They took two of three from a surprising Colorado Rockies team at Coors Field, but lost the series finale 6-5. Their pitching staff has allowed just 55 runs in 21 games in no small part thanks to the bullpen's 1.60 ERA*. If the Tigers are going to score tonight, it will likely have to be on Maholm.

*Fun fact: the Braves' and Tigers' bullpens are tied for the league lead with 1.1 fWAR. Can we trade? Please?

Prediction

Soft-tossing lefty = Tigers downfall.

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