After an impressive road series sweep of the Seattle Mariners, the Atlanta Braves have once again proved they play their best ball against the leagues best pitchers. In Seattle, the Braves beat Eric Bedard, Michael Pineda, and last year's Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez, an impressive feat for any team. The sweep was just the most recent example of Atlanta playing their best against intimidating pitchers. Playing at such a high level against their toughest foes may give the Braves a leg-up come October.
The big-game victories began in April against arch-rival Philadelphia. Cliff Lee, the most coveted prize of last offseason, seems unable to beat the Braves. In his first start, Lee was rocked for 10 hits and 6 earned-runs in just 3.1 innings. In their second meeting on May 7, the Braves again prevailed beating Lee 5-0. Fellow Philly starters, Halladay and Hamels, have only fared slightly better against Atlanta. Both Hamels and Halladay have suffered losses at the hands of the Braves.Tim Lincecum, yet another Cy Young Winner, was bested 5-2 by Atlanta on April 23.
So what is the secret to Atlanta's success against these dominant pitchers? The answer lies in the Braves' ability to counter good pitching with a spectacular staff of their own. Atlanta boasts arguably the best all-around pitching in the majors, with a 3.08 team ERA. Starter and relievers have both been excellent all season long; Atlanta is stingy in every part of the game. While teams like Philadelphia rely on seven or more innings per-outing, the Braves are happy to hand the ball over to their shut-down bullpen.
These big-game victories could provide the Braves with a unique advantage in the postseason. Come October, seemingly every playoff opponent will start elite pitchers like Lincecum Halladay, and Hernandez. Seeing these dominant arms and beating them regularly will give the Atlanta club a sense of confidence and preparedness for postseason meetings to come.