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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Before the 2014 Major League Baseball season started, few would have expected a late May series involving the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves to be newsworthy outside of those cities. Milwaukee sure wasn’t supposed to be a factor in a division featuring the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and last year’s Cinderella Pittsburgh Pirates. Atlanta had suffered so many pitching injuries that the media was expecting the worst.

Well…Thursday night’s series finale features a pair of FIRST PLACE TEAMS squaring off in what is potentially a playoff preview for this October. At the very least, both are already well positioned for the Wildcard race even if they do fall back to earth. If they don’t fall back to earth…one of these teams could be making history in a few months!

The biggest case against either of these teams doing that comes on offense. Milwaukee is perceived as a high scoring team because they did have some decent offensive numbers right out of the gate. Their bats have cooled off recently though. And, Atlanta’s bats have never gotten out of the deep freeze. Let’s look at some key numbers…

 

OFFENSE

Milwaukee: 3.74 runs per game, .301 on-base, .386 slugging

Atlanta: 3.39 runs per game, .298 on-base, .381 slugging

Skip over runs scored for a second, and look at how similar the teams are in the other two categories…the nuts and bolts of offensive construction. The single most important stat in modern offense is on-base percentage. Of the 15 teams in the National League, Milwaukee currently ranks #13, with Atlanta right behind them at #14. These offenses are HORRIBLE at getting people on base!

Slugging is better, but only league average. Milwaukee is #7 currently, while Atlanta is #9. So, we have two teams who unlikely to be juggernauts from this point forward in terms of production…who must therefore win with pitching.

Why the difference in runs-per-game. In a sample size this small (a quarter of a season), that’s very likely due to hitting breaks with runners in scoring position. Milwaukee’s scoring a bit more than they should be, and are unlikely to keep that going.

So, let’s rain on the playoff parade right out of the gate. Neither of these teams have playoff caliber offenses. They have their work cut out for them if they want to stay in the pennant race mix over a full six months.

Moving now to the specifics of handicapping Thursday Night’s game…

 

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Matt Garza: 2-4 record, 4.83 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.7 K-Rate

Aaron Harang: 4-4 record, 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.8 K-Rate

A mismatch…but a mystery. Garza has been consistently disappointing. He’s allowed three earned runs or more in seven of his last eight starts. And, he’s doing that in a low-scoring season in the league without the DH. Poor numbers for a 2014 context. Harang on the other hand…is this year’s Bartolo Colon. An old guy who was supposedly washed up is posting Cy Young numbers. If he’d gotten more run support, his record would have him making headlines. YOU need to be aware that his stat line is top notch. And, it was one truly horrible start vs. Miami that pushed the numbers as high as they are. He’s generally been BETTER than those numbers!

Clearly, Harang has a meaningful edge if the pitchers throw to those numbers. Can he maintain his early pace? JIM HURLEY has been neck deep in baseball stats all season. We haven’t talked much about that here in the NOTEBOOK because playoff basketball gets priority at this time of year. You can rest assured that only THE BEST PLAYS ON THE BOARD are being posted for online clients. You can always purchase each day's best bets right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us Wednesday during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. (Remember to take care of business early because there are five DAY games!)

Back with you Friday for more baseball. We’ll get caught up with the surging San Francisco Giants and beleaguered pitcher Tim Lincecum in that report. Basketball returns Saturday with Game Three of Indiana/Miami, followed Sunday by Game Three of San Antonio/Oklahoma City.

For now…it’s time to GET THE MONEY on another BLOCKBUSTER BASEBALL CARD with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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