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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 7:00 AM

A few weeks ago, both the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds were virtual locks to make the playoffs. Some computation systems still show the Braves at 95% to play in October. But, they’ve been treading water for a few weeks now, which has brought the Washington Nationals back into the divisional race. Cincinnati has really hit the skids the past two weeks, and is now only a 2-1 favorite to reach the postseason.

Are these teams still playoff caliber? The Braves have been in a dead heat with the Miami Marlins the past five weeks (true, look it up!). The Reds were embarrassed by the AL West in Interleague play, and didn’t bounce back very well at all when they resumed action in their own league. Of concern to both:

*The LA Dodgers recent hot streak has created the possibility that two teams from the AL West will make the playoffs, which takes away one of the Wildcards.

*The improved health of the Washington Nationals’ lineup makes them a serious second half contender in Atlanta’s NL East if they can ever get good hitting and good pitching lined up at the same time.

*Pittsburgh is much less likely to experience their annual collapse given the caliber of this year’s starting rotation, which means the Reds are going to have to EARN a spot in the NL Central.

It’s not time to panic if you’re a fan of the Braves or the Reds. It’s time to worry. And, the loser of this weekend’s series will have even more to worry about!

Let’s run through the projected pitching matchups…

 

THURSDAY’S PITCHERS

Cincinnati… Latos: 8-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Atlanta…Hudson: 5-7, 4.03 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Note that this game will be nationally televised on the MLB Network. Latos has been the ace of the Cincinnati staff this year, though he’s been a bit more vulnerable lately. And, he caught a break when he missed the red hot Oakland offense in that recent series.

Hudson’s record and ERA don’t impress (particularly that record on a division leader). But, he’s found his form lately, throwing six quality starts in his last seven outings. His ERA has dropped from 5.37 to 4.03 in the process. Basically a battle here of aces, with two pitchers possibly also benefitting from the fact that both offenses had to travel in without a day off. Think about the Under in that light.

 

FRIDAY’S PITCHERS

Cincinnati …Arroyo: 7-7, 3.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Atlanta … Medlen: 6-8, 3.45 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

You just never know what you’re going to get with Arroyo. There’s more good than bad given that ERA and WHIP…but the bad is ugly when it happens. He becomes a coin flip pitcher when the Reds offense is slumping…and it’s been slumping.

A lot of similarities between these pitchers this year. They’re generally positive forces on a rotation given their stats…but they’re rarely overpowering forces unless they’re facing a weak offense that isn’t interested that day. No clear edge above. If the Reds slump is continuing through the first game of the series, consider the Braves or the Under.

 

SATURDAY’S PITCHERS

Cincinnati …Bailey: 5-7, 3.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Atlanta … Minor: 8-4, 3.05 ERA, 1.09 WHIP

Talk about inconsistency! Bailey threw a no-hitter vs. the Giants two starts ago, but only has four quality starts in his last eight. He’s told the press that he feels great out of the wind-up, but struggles when he has to pitch from the stretch. He might catch a break here with a 4:05 p.m. start time in Atlanta that should shadows influencing visibility for hitters.

The full season numbers look great for Minor. The bad news is that he’s hit a rough patch lately, allowing 16 earned runs in 30.1 innings against bad offenses. He’s not currently in the form those numbers would suggest, though he could also be helped by stadium shadows with this start time.

 

SUNDAY’S PITCHERS

Cincinnati …Cingrani: 3-1, 3.30 ERA, 1.10 WHIP

Atlanta … Teheran: 7-4, 3.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

The Reds haven’t missed Johnny Cueto at all, because Cingrani keeps putting up Cueto-level numbers in his stead. Now if he could just get some run support. You just saw four good pitching lines for the Reds. That explains why they’re very clearly a playoff team with a normal offense…but a struggling team when the bats aren’t producing.

After a slow start, Teheran has been tearing up the league the past several weeks. His ERA is a sparkling 2.17 over his last 10 starts! That sets him up very well for a home series finale on the MLB-wide getaway day before the All-Star Break. Very tough to expect a big scoring day for the Reds when they’re facing a hot pitcher just before a needed vacation.

JIM HURLEY will very likely have at least one big play in this four-game set. There are other big matchups to look forward to as well. We’ll preview one from the American League for you here in our Friday report, as both Texas/Detroit or Boston/Oakland could be playoff previews.

Remember that daily BASEBALL BEST BETS can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back to college football previews this weekend, as we discuss the Sun Belt and the Independents. That marks the transition point from the mid-majors to the majors…and brings us to Alabama and the SEC previews that start Monday.

The summer’s going by fast, which means football will be here before you know it. Get the best of baseball and football from the exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach that’s only available from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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