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Series Ten: Marlins at Braves

After a wild week on the road, which featured more snow, rain, snow and rain (at the same time), and rain delays than actual baseball, the Marlins aren't quite back home yet. There are two games left to be played in Atlanta, home of the perennial division champion Atlanta Braves. Here are the expected pitching matchups for this two game set:

Game 1 (tonight): Al Leiter vs. Mike Hampton
Game 2 (tomorrow afternoon): A.J. Burnett vs. Tim Hudson

As we did before the season's opening series, we sat down with former Braves mascot Chief Noc-a-Homa to get some insight on the upcoming series.  And, of course...

Today's Marlins - Phillies series preview, featuring the Phillie Phanatic is brought to you by Zombo. With Zombo, all things are possible.

: So it's come to this, hasn't it Chief?

: What? What are you talking about?

: Two game series. Marlins and Braves tied for the division lead. If it wasn't early May it would feel like the whole season could come down to this series.

: Oh, I see what you're saying. Unfortunately, you have it all wrong. The whole season probably will come down to this series. This sure feels like the right time for the Braves to put some distance between themselves and "the rest of the division."

: I was afraid that you'd say that, or that that would actually happen. These pitching matchups kind of worry me.

: Yeah - Hampton's on the hill for the Braves tonight, and he tends to pitch like a guy who doesn't respect that the Marlins are paying the bulk of his salary. Tomorrow's matchup between Hudson and Burnett should be a dandy. I know Burnett has pitched well, but Hudson has had some electric outings - including his nine-inning shutout of the Astros. That's somewhat offset by him getting roughed up (6 earned runs in 6 innings) in his last outing against the Cardinals.

: Hudson has been good, but tonight's starter, Mike Hampton has been better. Hampton is 4th in ESPN's Cy Young Predictor - behind Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett of course.

: Beckett's still on that list after Sunday's outing?

: That was an anomaly. I'm pretty sure he skipped out early during Saturday night's rain fest in Philly and went to Denny's Beer Barrel Pub for a 15-pound burger. That would slow anyone down the next day. I'm sure he'll be back to normal for his next start. You guys should be glad you're missing him this series.

: Oh, we are. In fact, we wish Carlos Delgado (who hit almost .500 against us in the opening series) and Mike Lowell (who hit .320 against us last year) would take this series off. I know he's been in a funk so far this year, but Lowell's due to breakout and I fear it's going to happen against us. Over the past three years Lowell has hit better against lefties than righties (he has a .296 batting average and a .944 OPS vs. lefties compared to .278 and .827 totals against righties). For us Braves, that doesn't bode to well for tonight's game against lefty Mike Hampton.

: How has the Dan Kolb experiment been going?

: Not so well so far.  While the Braves aren't saying anything along these lines, I fear the National League has figured him out. He's never been a guy to strikeout many, but he's always had good control. So far this year though he's walked almost twice as many guys as he's struck out, which is nearly the inverse of what he's done over the course of his career. For a guy who puts the ball in play so much, you can't afford to allow free baserunners like that.

Still though, we're glad to have Smoltz back in the rotation - which acquiring Kolb allowed us to do - so in that sense it's a good thing.

: So Smoltz hasn't continued to look like he did on opening day?

: No, not at all. His ERA has steadily decreased, which I suppose was only inevitable. He's gone at least 6 2/3 innings in each of his outings and hasn't given up more than 2 runs (earned or not) in any of his post-opening day appearances. He's been solid.

: Speaking of solid, the Jones boys haven't exactly been that. Or am I missing something?

: Well, Larry - er, I mean Chipper - has been dinged up. We're hoping that he's back in the lineup against the Marlins, but you can never be certain. If he is, I'd expect Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo - if he's in the lineup - to test Chipper's health by bunting at him a few times over these two games.

The other Jones - Andruw Jones - hasn't gotten off to the start that everyone predicted for him (including you!) based on his strong pre-season. He's just about hitting his weight and has an OPS of .704 which is more than 100 points lower than his career average.

: Does anyone call Andruw Jones "Rudolf"? I see that's his middle name.

: I don't suggest that you try to find out.

: I can't wait till the Braves come back to Miami. I'll have my Rudolf cheers going from the bleachers.

: Focus man!

: Ok - last question: Who would you rather have on your bench, Braves super-sub Pete Orr or Marlins utility man Damion Easley?

: That's tough. They both bring different things to the table. Orr brings a lot of speed and a left handed bat. Plus he's only 25 and makes about the minimum, versus Easley who's ten years older and earns more than double. Both can play just about any position you need to stick them in. In the long run I'd probably take Orr, but for this season - especially with a club like the Marlins or Braves, where the expectations are to compete for the pennant - I'd take Easley, with his wealth of experience, for this year.

: Thanks for your time, Chief! We'll get together again at the end of June when you guys head back down to Miami.