Clemens was scratched from a scheduled start Sunday because of stomach flu but is expected to be ready and well-rested for Wednesday's series opener. At 42, Clemens is still one of the best and a savvy veteran with loads of playoff experience and an improved splitter that enabled him to forge the NL's best winning percentage in 2004. Clemens received a no-decision in his only start against the Braves this season, allowing one earned run in seven innings. Not counting his World Series win against the Braves in 1999, Clemens is 0-2 with a 4.67 ERA in three regular season starts against Atlanta. He is 6-0 with a 3.79 ERA in his last 10 starts.
A 20-game winner for the first time, Oswalt is 12-3 with a 3.30 ERA since the break. Oswalt is 0-1 with a 5.09 ERA in four career games against Atlanta, including a 7.36 ERA at Turner Field. Sharp speed difference between fastball (93-97) and breaking stuff (68-78). Oswalt really began to roll when he mastered the changeup, a pitch he rarely threw before this season. It has helped set up his other pitches and produced more groundball outs and strikeouts.
Backe throws his fastball in the 88-94 mph range, but his slider and curveball are much slower, ranging from 71 to 84. Backe has been much tougher at home, going 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA, compared to 1-2 with a 6.52 ERA on the road. Backe struggles when his control is off as his stuff doesn't have a lot of movement. An excellent athlete, the former shortstop is the best hitting pitcher on the club and above-average defensively.
Wright, one of two Braves starters with significant postseason experience, is 9-3 with a 2.95 ERA since the break and has been beaten in just three of his last 24 starts. He was hit on the right foot by a line drive last week, however, and though he has been cleared to pitch, the Braves will be watching their ace closely. Wright hasn't faced the Astros since 1999 at the Astrodome. He is 0-1 with 2.00 ERA in nine career innings against Houston.
The former Astro knows the veteran Astro hitters as well as anyone and has never lost to Houston (2-0 in five career starts). But he hasn't been as sharp at Minute Maid Park as he was at the Astrodome. His career ERA at Minute Maid Park is 5.79. The Astros haven't hit lefties as well as right-handers and a groundball pitcher like Hampton, who also gives the Braves an extra hitter, will be a tough test for Houston.
Thomson will be making his first postseason appearance, but he's been one of the hottest pitchers in the league recently, going 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA since the break, including 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in six September starts. A pulled rib cage muscle in his last start may jeopardize his Game 2 start. The Astros hit Thomson hard in an early-season start at Turner Field, but he pitched brilliantly (seven innings, four hits, two runs) in a win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Aug. 4.
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