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Playoff Preview: Braves and Astros

Round 5.

Yes, the Braves will do battle with the Astros, in a first-round playoff series, yet again. Let's take a look back at past meetings...

  1. Braves in 3
  2. Braves in 4
  3. Braves in 3
  4. Astros in 5
For many, many years (re: since 1962), the Astros struggled to get over that playoff series hump. Whether it was countless failures against the Braves, or running into the Met steamroller in 1986, the 'Stros just couldn't win a playoff series.

Last year changed everything, though, as the Astros came within one game of the World Series, and, save a 2-run homer by Scott Rolen in the 6th inning of Game 7, the Astros could have prolonged The Curse themselves.

Since comparison, in this case, is so easy, let's take a look back and see where these two teams are, now, relative to '04.

                RS      RA      NLAVGRUNS
2004 Astros     803     698     751
2005 Astros     693     609     721

2004 Braves     803     668     751
2005 Braves     769     674     721
Even in a table that doesn't park adjust, we can make a few generalizations.
  1. The run environment, this year, is smaller than last year by around 30 runs across a full season. So, while it's easy to say that the Astros lost 110 runs worth of production, the entire league's offensive production was down for the year.
  2. Considering that the Astros scored only 693 runs in a hitter's park (one that has scored a 107, 105, and two 104s on Baseball Reference in the past 5 years), their offense is quite terrible.
  3. The Braves' hitting is right around where it was last year. They've lost a bit, but the league took a general step back, and there's was right in line with the league's move.
  4. The Braves' pitching, however, is NOT as good as it has been in years past, even with Smoltz moving to the rotation and everything.
  5. The Astros' pitching is historically good, and they are theoretically built extraordinarily well for a short series, enough to be a favorite World Series pick of many going into the playoffs.
Let's do the rest of this in list form, just so I know what to look for in this series.
  1. The Astros have 3 of the top 6 in the NL in ERA. Their Big 3 have combined for a 2.39 ERA in 670 innings.
  2. More on them: 99 starts. 78 quality starts. Unbelievable.
  3. Down the stretch, John Smoltz started to tire a bit, but he still managed a 4.01 ERA in August and September.
  4. MVP candidate Andruw Jones slumped a bit in September, posting a .210/.292/.490 line. That said, he's still the scariest bat in either lineup, and a lot of that could be the whole "volatility of batting average" thing.
  5. 9 out of 10 on ESPN's staff predict the Astros to win. A computer and Alan Schwarz predict the Braves will.
  6. Games 1-3: Pettitte v. Hudson, Clemens v. Smoltz, Sosa v. Oswalt.
  7. That's JORGE Sosa, former Devil Ray, for those who haven't followed the Braves this year. In 20 starts, he's struggled to extend himself (only 107.7 IP), but he's managed to post a 2.62 ERA. He hasn't quite been that good this year (his BABIP might be helping a bit at .269), but this was Mazzone's success of 2005.
  8. Kyle Farnsworth notched 10 saves for the Braves in 27.3 IP after he was acquired... he gave up all of 6 runs, 4 homers, 7 walks, and 32 strikeouts.
  9. Brad Lidge is still blowing people away in Houston, striking out an astonishing 35.7% of the batters he faces.
  10. Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls give the Astros a solid top-3 in the bullpen, and if Wheeler can replicate his astonishing run in the postseason last year (8 IP, 4 hits, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K), the Astros would be happy.
  11. The Braves run a very efficient platoon at first base. While the production isn't superb, the .262/.326/.458 combined line from LaRoche and the ageless Julio Franco ranked 19th in the majors in OPS, all for the low cost of $1.33 million. Not bad for 4.5 WARP.
  12. One thing that the Braves don't quite match up with to the Astros is in the bullpen. The numbers on this one don't lie; the Astros 'pen is worth around 10.3 wins by WXRL, and the Braves' pen is worth only 1.5 WXRL. Farnsworth was a big addition, but the Braves aren't going to be too happy if it's a tie game late.
  13. For a change, the top two producers on the Astros don't both have the initial of "B." Lance Berkman recovered nicely from his offseason injury to post a .295/.414/.528 line, and fringe-MVP candidate Morgan Ensberg's .282/.387/.557 made him the best third baseman in baseball not in the Bronx.
Those are just a few things to note before watching these teams do battle, yet again.

Hudson, Smoltz, and Sosa just doesn't really measure up to Pettitte, Clemens, and Oswalt, but it's a short series, and if a couple of those three misfire, it's pretty much over.

This is another one of those cut and dried situation - the Astros can pitch better and the Braves can hit a bit better. Standard playoff logic says that the Astros should win this series and I can't really find a reason against it. The sensible pick is the Astros, but caveat emptor.