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Series Preview # 6: D-backs @ Braves

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JENNIFER CAPRIATI & a window of contention.
Dream big! A window of contention.

The Braves window of contention starts next season.

Superstar position players:

  • Joel Reuter of Bleacher Report predicted the top 20 superstars of 2020. Two of 20, Freddie Freeman (1B) and Ronald Acuna (LF) are Braves!
  • Zips 2020 projected Ozzie Albies’ WAR to be 4.9 in 2020, which is higher that the projected WAR of Reuter’s two superstars. Ozzie Albies could be a superstar. On 11 April, the Braves extended Ozzie Albies through 2023, with options through 2025. In the hard-to-fill centerfield position, Ender Inciarte’s projected WAR is 2.9 in 2020, at the star level.
  • In the off-season, the Braves signed Josh Donaldson, a great hitting third baseman, to a 1 year, $23 million contract. Although he could boost the team to the playoffs, he is really holding the position until top-100 prospect Austin Riley is ready to play in the Majors.
  • On 2 April, the Braves extended Ronald Acuna through 2026, with options through 2028. Jim Bowden of the Athletic wrote, “…he’s the third best overall outfielder in the sport.”

Top-100 pitching prospects:

  • The Braves gave two top-100 pitching prospects, Kyle Wright and Bryce Wilson, September call-ups (6 and 7 innings). They started the second and third games of this season, with ERAs of 6.23 and 10.80. Clearly, the Braves are preparing them for the window of contention.
  • The Braves have four additional top-100 pitching prospects - Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Luiz Gohara, and Ian Anderson. That totals six top-100 pitching prospects.
  • Two top-100 pitching prospects from 2018 are worth note. Max Fried is in rotation. He has allowed zero earned runs in 13.2 innings. Kolby Allard, first round pick from 2014, is pitching in AAA and on the 40-man roster.

It’s a young team:

  • Five of the eight go-to position players are 29 years old or younger.
  • Every starting pitcher is 28 years old or younger.
  • Looking at next season for players over 29 years old, five will be free agents, two will be team options to retain, and one will be arbitration eligible. Clearly, next season looks like the first season in the contention-window, when old players are replaced with talented prospects.

Former D-back players are now Braves.

Ender Inciarte. A 3-time Gold Glove center fielder, he generously demonstrated fielding in a 10 minute teaching video. My two favorite ideas apply beyond baseball:

  • Always expect the ball to come to me.
  • Be aware and loose and constantly moving to explosively jump into that first step.

Touki Toussaint. He did something new! “Aaron Sanchez told me to do Pilates last year, and I was like, ‘What?! I’m not taking Pilates.’ But he told me to trust it, so I did it, and it has made a huge difference. So I go work out, then I do Pilates every day. You learn about your body. Small things you didn’t realize you need like balance and core, you need that. It makes workouts easier.” — Touki Toussaint (Source: interview by Parker Johnson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Dansby Swanson. Amazing and horrific fact - from May through September last season, he had a piece of cartilage that would slide around in his hand. “There would be times when it would go in that joint and my hand would literally like freeze.” —Dansby Swanson (source: interview with Kelsey Russo of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). In November he had corrective surgery. This season he is playing every day and has an OPS over 1000.

Looking Ahead

Losing three 1-run games in the Padres series revealed an insight. The D-backs are fighters who could be awesome with a little luck. My in-season tracking projection fell from 89 wins to 88 wins for the D-backs.

This season the D-backs will play the Braves twice. I predict the D-backs will win both series. Next season, I will not repeat that daily-double prediction because the Braves will be in their window of contention.

Who will pitch in this series?

Tuesday. Max Fried (NA ERA+, 5.9 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (136 ERA+, 12.9 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9)

“Between Patrick [Weigel], Kolby [Allard], Mike [Soroka] and Touki [Toussaint], every day we were having some kind of competition, whether it was playing catch or in bullpens, watching each other day-in, day-out on their starts. Someone goes six shut-out innings, you want to go seven shut-out innings. You want to one-up them, not to show off, but to push it and help the team do better. I think that’s a very important part of your season, because if you don’t have any kind of motivation or someone to push you, you kind of get complacent and laid back. I’m very thankful these guys were all there pushing me and I was pushing them.” — Max Fried, Jan 2017 Interview with Grant McAuley, SB Nation.

Robbie Ray’s homers allowed per 9 innings of .589 is the eighth best in the NL. His strikeouts per 9 innings of 12.9 is the fourth best in the NL. His hits per 9 innings of 4.1 is the third best in the NL. This season, his one official decision is a loss. With his level of excellence he will earn many wins this season.

Wednesday. Kevin Gausman (160 ERA+, 8.5 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9) vs Zack Godley (64 ERA+, 8.5 SO/9, 4.2 BB/9)

On 31 July 2018, The Orioles traded Kevin Gausman to the Braves. He changed leagues. He moved from a team that finished last to a team that finished first. His ERA improved from 4.43 to 2.87.

This season, further improvement is obvious. In an interview, he said the National League is different than the American League. He said the power is not as much top to bottom, and a lead-off triple surprised him as much as four stolen bases in the first half of a game. For Gausman, new perspectives made a huge difference.

Zack Godley allowed 5 runs in the sixth inning of his last start. Luckily, it’s fixable.

  • One defensive misplay lengthened the inning and led to the next 4 runs. With runners at first and second, Renfroe hit a grounder into a left defensive shift. Best would have been gold-glover Ahmed fields the ball and throws to Marte at second base for an out. Instead, Marte fielded the ball, and Ahmed ran to second, arriving after the baserunner. If the out at second base happened, then Reyes’ strike out would have been the second out, and the Tatis sacrifice fly would not have scored a run. Hedges would not get to the plate to hit a 3-run homer.
  • A reliever should have entered the game when Godley’s pitch control was gone. The pitch that walked Meyers was bounced in the dirt. Immediately after the walk, the first pitch to Hosmer missed high and outside by two feet. Caleb Joseph visited the mound. The next pitch missed high by a foot. The next pitch was low and hit for a single. After Machado hit an RBI, Mike Butler visited the mound. The next pitch was low and outside by a foot, although swung at. The next pitch was outside, but close enough for Renfroe to hit, which he did.

Thursday. Kyle Wright (64 ERA+, 7.1 SO/9, 6.4 BB/9) Touki Toussaint (N/A ERA+, 10.5 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9) vs Luke Weaver (92 ERA+, 8.6 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9)

Kyle Wright was called up in September. He started 3 games this season.

“...it’s still crazy...It’s a lot different than the college baseball...It’s still eye opening. It’s still kind of amazing to be part of it.” — Kyle Wright interview with Fox Sports, February 2019. For Wright, new perspectives are eye opening. With his eyes opened, he was optioned to AAA.

Former D-back Touki Toussaint, arrived in the Majors on 13 August, 2018. Last season, he started 5 games.

In January, Touki Toussaint said the key to earning a spot in the rotation was consistency. This game will be his first start of the season. With consistency, he will likely stay in the rotation.

Luke Weaver is a D-back because of the Goldschmist trade. “Everybody brings their expertise in a different way. ... Coming over here [D-backs] it’s just a different mindset, with guys throwing different things. There’s no one right way to do something. I’ve learned a lot from Mike Butcher when it comes to curveballs.” — Luke Weaver interviewed by David Laurila of FanGraphs, March 2019.