At 77-70 the Atlanta Braves are clinging to a two game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. It’s been an up and down season for the Braves. Languishing around .500 for the first first half of the season, they battled numerous injuries to their rotation and the loss of Marcel Ozuna due to a finger injury and then off field domestic abuse issuess. Then just before the all star break in what seemed like a devastating blow to their division chances, they lost Ronald Acuna Jr for the season with a torn ACL.
But one by one their injured starters returned, and on the strength of good starting pitching and a homerun heavy offense they’ve managed to climb atop the division standings while the Mets imploded. Their 110 ERA+ ranks 4th in the NL, while their 95 OPS+ ranks 6th and their +42 Defensive Runs Saved ranks 6th as well.
Even without Acuna this team has a lot of power. In fact they are just the second team to have each of their 4 infielders reach the 25 Homer Mark, which they reached September 5th. They have a shot to become the first team with their 4 primary infielders to reach 30 HR:
1b Freddie Freeman, 30 HR, 134 OPS+, 2b Ozzie Albies, 28 HR, 105 OPS+, SS Dansby Swanson 26 HR, 100 OPS+, & 3bAustin Riley 29 HR, 129 OPS+
They are also getting plenty of power the last 7 weeks from trade deadline acquisitions Jorge Soler (10 HR, 125 OPS+) and Adam Duvall (13 HR, 118 OPS+). This offense is not only about the homerun however, as they are 3rd in the NL in B.A. W/RISP at .257
While the Atlanta rotation and offense have enough firepower to make some noise in the playoffs, their bullpen may not be strong enough to take them deep. They rank in the middle of the pack in the NL in most key bullpen metrics. Closer Will Smith has been inconsistent. He has a respectable but not outstanding 3.69 ERA, and 32 saves. However he also has 6 blown, the most recent one on Friday night vs. the Giants, his second blown save of September.
The Diamondbacks and Braves last faced each other almost 5 months ago. The date April 25th will probably stick in most people’s minds as that was the day Zac Gallen pitched a 1 hit 7 inning shutout in the first game of a double header, and Madison Bumgarner did him one better, throwing an “unofficial” no hitter in the nightcap. The Braves ended that night with a 9-12 record while the D-backs improved to 11-11. Since then the Braves have gone 69-58 while the Dbacks have gone 37-90, bringing them to 48-101.
Coming off another late inning loss due to a bullpen meltdown Sunday by rookie Brandyn Sittinger, Arizona has lost 5 of their last 6 and are 4-11 in September as they stagger towards the finish line with the toughest schedule in the NL. With 13 games left they need to go at least 4-9 to avoid tying the franchise worst W-L record set in 2004. That’s not going to be easy with 4 vs, the Braves, 3 vs, the Dodgers, 3 in San Francisco, and finally 3 at home vs. Colorado. That series could end up being a must win series to avoid the “franchise worst” tag.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
Huascar Ynoa missed three months of the season when he broke his hand punching the bench in Mid May. He’s been back since early August however and has pitched well for the most part, although he’s lost his last three decisions. The 23 year old hard throwing phenom averages 97 with his fastball and 88 with a devastating slider. He’ll mix in an occasional changeup.
Humberto Mejia is getting recalled to make his 3rd start of the year. He’s done Ok in his previous two outings, walking just 3 in 11 innings. But he’s been a bit too hittable, allowing 14 knocks, including a couple of homers. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and he has a 4 pitch mix including a slider, changeup and curve. He needs to avoid location mistakes in the zone and induce some softer contact, as he has a 40% hard hit rate in this small sample size.
Due to a rainout last week in Colorado, it’s unclear what the Braves will do with this rotation spot. Look to the comments tomorrow afternoon for an update.
Luke Weaver continues along the comeback trail from a shoulder injury (not related to his 2019 elbow injury). His first start back was triumphant, but the last two have not gone well. Over 9 IP, he’s allowed 7 runs, 6 earned, with 3 BB, 8K, and 9 hits, including 2 doubles, 2 triples and 1 HR. It’s seemed like it’s always 1 or 2 pitches keeping him from having a good outing. We’ll be watching to see if he sticks with a two pitch mix , Fastball/Changeup, or if he looks to re introduce a breaking pitch, either slider or curve, back into the mix. The difference in his numbers facing hitters the 1st and 2nd time in the game this year are stark.
Ian Anderson missed 7 weeks with a shoulder injury that interrupted a good season. He had a 3.56 ERA when he went on the IL July 13th. His first start back August 29th against the Giants was excellent, but he’s struggled in two of his three starts since, giving up 10 runs and 6 homers in his last 14 IP. He throws a mid 90’s fastball, has a great changeup he uses 31% of the time, and also throws a curveball 20% of the time, although with less success than the change.
Merrill Kelly made his first start since coming off the Covid-IL last week against the Dodgers and was hit hard, allowing 10 hits in 4.2 IP of work. He also walked 2, struck out just 1, and allowed a homer. Hopefully he’s just knocking off some rust. But he gave up 11 hits, including 2 HR and 5 in 5 IP in the start just before going on the IL. So his season is definitely not trending in the right direction.
Charlie Morton is the ace of the Braves staff, with a 13-6 record. He’s continued his later career excellence that first surfaced with 2017 Astros. It’s truly remarkable
2008-2016 161 GS, 893 IP, 46-71 Record, 4.54 ERA, 91.6 avg FB Velocity
2017-2021 127 GS, 716 IP, 60-24 Record, 3.38 ERA, 95.0 avg FB Velocity
Madison Bumgarner pitched one of his best games of the year last Friday against the Astros, allowing just 1 hit, a two run homer to Jose Altuve in 7 IP. It’s been a season of extremes for Madbum. He has 11 starts with a game score over 60, including of course the no-hitter vs. these very same Braves. But he also owns 9 games with a game score 42 or under. When he has his pinpoint command, not only does he not walk anybody, but he induces a lot of soft contact and works efficiently. But if his command is off just a little he gets whacked, starts walking guys, and the homers come in bunches. Hopefully he can keep the momentum going from his last outing.
This is my last series preview for the year. I’ve really enjoyed doing these. I usually try to put a little more emphasis on the opponent as most of our readers already know a lot about the Diamondbacks. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and I look forward to contributing more in 2022.