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Atlanta Braves series preview: They're bad.

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The worst team in baseball comes to town.

Watch your nuts, Royals
Watch your nuts, Royals
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Having dropped five straight series, the Kansas City Royals come home to face the Atlanta Braves, not looking the part of the reigning World Champions at all. The Royals just wrapped a four-game series against a last-place New York Yankees team that was seven games under .500 when the series started. That last place team took three of four against Kansas City.

The Braves share the ignominy of having the worst record in baseball with the Minnesota Twins, both sporting an ugly 8 - 25 record.  The 29th-ranked team in home runs (the Angels) have hit 26. The Braves have nine. As a team. And that's with a home run in each of their last two games. The Braves' record is not misrepresentative of their talent level.

Of course, the Royals have spent the past few weeks making these struggling teams, particularly their offenses, look better than they had before having the luxury of facing them. As Buddy Bell said, "I'd never say it can't get worse."

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Friday, 7:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Julio Teheran 7 41.1 39 14 3.48 3.86 4.18 3.98
Edinson Volquez 7 41.2 36 15 3.89 3.70 3.99 4.09

Though Julio Teheran has never quite lived up to the prospect hype that surrounded him when he broke into the league, he is enjoying a better individual campaign than the team upon which he finds himself. He currently holds the highest strikeout rates of his career (8.49 K/9, 22.3 K%), though his walk rates currently sit a little higher than his career averages.

His velocity on his four-seamer - his primary offering - is down about 1.5 MPH this season, and his two-seamer is down 0.8 MPH. He is also relying on his change-up more heavily, with it taking the place of the curve as second-most frequently used off-speed offering after his slider. Looking at his quality of contact allowed, he's actually getting much less soft contact than in the rest of his career, but that contact isn't yielding more line drives. Both his ground-ball and fly-ball rates are up, but his home-run rates are below his career averages. Judging by his xFIP and SIERA, there's reason to believer that his home-run rates are due for some regression.

Volquez's peripherals actually indicate that he is pitching better this year than last. His strikeouts are up from last year while his walks are at almost exactly the same level as last year. Unfortunately for Volquez, his .315 BABIP show that he hasn't had the same defensive good fortune that he enjoyed last year, losing .025 points of help behind him. His hit ball distribution actually shows that he is allowing even fewer line drives than last year, and those hit balls are getting distributed into the ground-ball bucket. Hopefully the Royals' defense starts treating him better, starting Friday night.

Game Two - Saturday, 6:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Mike Foltynewicz 2 10.2 12 2 5.06 6.28 3.76 3.33
Dillon Gee 0 20.2 16 8 2.61 5.37 4.44 4.16

One of the key returns to the Braves last year's Evan Gattis trade, Foltynewicz's early 2016 campaign has been marred by early struggles limiting the long ball. He yielded three in his first start, a 3.2 inning start at Citi Field in which the Mets had eight hits, drew two walks and scored four earned. His second start went significantly better, as he struck out eight while walking no Diamondbacks, but there was still a home run allowed leading to two earned runs. The hard-throwing young righty lives off his fastball (both a two- and four-seamer), which sits in the mid-90s, mixing in a slider roughly a quarter of the time. He has also gone to the curve 11.3% of the time and thrown a few change-ups in there, though it's hard to make too much hay out of pitch usage through just two starts. As a prospect, he really just had the blazing fastball, but he added the slider upon arriving in Atlanta, and clearly it works better for him than his fringy curve.

Gee gets his first start for the Royals this Saturday, taking the spot of the injured and ineffective Chris Young in the rotation. Out of the bullpen, the former Met's stuff was playing up a few miles per hour across the board. It's unlikely he will maintain that velocity on Saturday, as the Royals will need him to go at least two times through the order. Gee pitched the equivalent of a start in relief on Tuesday, as he went 5.1 innings against the Yankees. His early season has been marked by exceptional luck stranding runners (98.1 LOB%) and poor home run luck (19.0 HR/FB%) while getting the benefit of a .237 BABIP, so it stands to reason that we have not seen the complete picture of Dillon Gee yet this season.

Game Three - Sunday, 1:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Matt Wisler 6 41.1 25 11 3.27 4.47 5.14 4.81
Danny Duffy (L) 0 18.0 21 5 3.00 2.32 3.16 2.79

One of the gets in the Craig Kimbrel trade last year, Wisler has reaped the rewards of a .197 BABIP this season. His peripherals all point toward a level of performance more reminiscent of his roughly replacement-level 2015. He has also allowed more hard contact (37.0% compared to last year's 28.2%), but that has not yielded more line drives. His pitch selection - four-seam, slider, two-seam with a smattering of curves and changes - remains virtually unchanged, along with his velocity. Wisler will regress to the mean, and it probably won't be pretty.

Starting in place of the injured Kris Medlen, Duffy will be working with pitch count limitations that will likely limit him to just a few innings. As expected, his stuff has played up in the pen. He has lived off his fastball, throwing it a whopping 79.5% of the time. Obviously, the southpaw's approach will have to change some. Whether this means Duffy reverts to that frustrating prior walk-happy, nibbling incarnation of himself is anybody's guess.

The Batsmen

This Braves offense has been laughably bad thus far.

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Nick Markakis(L) RF 137 0 12 21 0 .287 .387 .383 .341 110
Ender Inciarte (L) LF 28 0 3 0 0 .200 .286 .200 .232 38
Freddie Freeman (L) 1B 133 6 14 10 1 .289 .391 .500 .379 135
A.J. Pierzynski (L) C 80 0 6 7 1 .203 .250 .243 .224 33
Jeff Francoeur DH 65 0 4 6 0 .233 .277 .267 .237 42
Gordon Beckham 3B 35 0 4 3 0 .276 .400 .345 .345 110
Erick Aybar (S) SS 122 0 7 3 2 .184 .217 .219 .192 12
Daniel Castro 2B 78 0 6 4 1 .203 .244 .216 .210 24
Mallex Smith (L) CF 80 1 10 9 5 .222 .278 .347 .275 66
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Tyler Flowers C 54 0 2 6 0 .229 .315 .229 .257 55
Kelly Johnson (L) IF 66 0 4 5 1 .233 .303 .300 .273 65
Chase d'Arnaud OF 13 0 0 0 0 .308 .308 .385 .301 83
Reid Brignac (L) IF 17 0 1 0 0 .176 .176 .235 .178 3

*Stats through Thursday, May 12

There is so much bad going on here that it's hard to wrap your head around it. The Braves have four players who have put up positive value as position players in terms of fWAR, and one of those is Mike Foltynewicz, who has gone 2-for-4 at the plate. Erick Aybar (-1.2 fWAR) has been so bad that by himself, he has canceled out the four positive contributors with -0.1 fWAR left over. One of the Braves' nine home runs was hit by Adonis Garcia, who was optioned to the minors last week. If you are reading this, you would be tied for fourth on the Braves' active roster in home runs in 2016.

Aside from Freddie Freeman and to a lesser degree Nick Markakis, this offensive unit has been brutal. How brutal? As a team they are slashing .226/.292/.292, good for a .261 wOBA and a 58 wRC+ (!). Their offense has been 42 percent below average. As a unit, they've been worth -3.8 fWAR. We like to complain about Alcides Escobar hitting leadoff, asserting that literally everyone on the Royals would be better suited for the job. Escobar's .248/.286/.297 line gives him a .259 wOBA and 59 wRC+. The Braves' lineup is basically Escobar as a unit.

Counting their pitching staff's contributions, the Braves (as an entire team) are a -2.8 fWAR team, leaving them prime for relegation to Triple-A, where they might not be better than the theoretical replacement-level team.

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