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Atlanta Braves Series Preview: Just two of these left

The Braves come to town with basically nothing to play for, which is slightly more than the Royals have.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves
Sep 20, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) celebrates after clinching the NL East division after defeating the San Francisco Giants at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The final homestand of the 2019 season and the penultimate series of the season is here with the Atlanta Braves coming to town as the Royals season ends with a whimper. The Braves have basically nothing to play for in this series, so there’s a chance we see a series resembling more spring training than regular season, but that probably bodes well for the Royals chances to grab a win or even two since they’re so good in Cactus League play. There is a very outside chance the Braves can catch and pass the Dodgers for best record in the National League, but they’ll have to win all five of their remaining games and the Dodgers will have to lose all six they play, which seems, well, unlikely. And the Royals are barely jockeying for draft position as they will pick either third or fourth in the 2020 draft with fourth the likeliest result. The Royals did take both games from the Braves earlier this season, so maybe there’s some measure of revenge they want to enact, but I imagine they’ll take these two games (and the off days surrounding them) to get some good rest for their regulars and then amp back up in the final weekend of the season.

Meet the Braves

Braves vs. Royals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Braves
Category Royals Braves
Winning % .363 .611
Team wRC+ 84 102
Team xFIP 4.98 4.45
Run Differential -169 113
H2H Wins 7 4
H2H Runs 54 65
Highest fWAR Jorge Soler, 3.1 Ronald Acuna, Jr., 5.5

Braves Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Ronald Acuna, Jr. CF 714 .280 .366 .518 10.6% 26.3% 127 5.5
Ozzie Albies 2B 677 .296 .352 .501 7.7% 16.0% 116 4.4
Freddie Freeman 1B 681 .296 .391 .555 12.6% 18.1% 140 4.1
Josh Donaldson 3B 640 .255 .377 .520 15.3% 24.1% 131 4.6
Nick Markakis LF 447 .285 .353 .422 9.6% 12.3% 101 0.0
Matt Joyce RF 226 .296 .412 .460 16.4% 19.0% 132 1.3
Austin Riley DH 285 .232 .284 .487 5.3% 36.1% 90 0.5
Brian McCann C 307 .252 .322 .419 9.4% 16.6% 90 1.0
Dansby Swanson SS 520 .244 .322 .420 9.6% 22.3% 91 1.6

Braves Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Francisco Cervelli C 148 .221 .306 .344 8.1% 25.0% 74 0.2
Tyler Flowers C 302 .231 .321 .420 10.3% 33.4% 89 2.1
John Ryan Murphy C 69 .177 .250 .419 8.7% 40.6% 68 0.2
Adeiny Hechavarria INF 214 .228 .285 .406 6.1% 22.0% 81 0.4
Adam Duvall OF/1B 114 .260 .316 .558 6.1% 30.7% 119 0.5
Billy Hamilton OF 338 .217 .284 .276 8.6% 24.6% 49 0.4
Rafael Ortega OF 88 .200 .273 .275 9.1% 20.5% 45 -0.1

Braves Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Mark Melancon 63 64.0 5 2 24.6% 6.6% 3.80 3.00 1.2
Shane Greene 62 60.0 0 3 25.6% 7.0% 2.25 3.94 1.0
Luke Jackson 68 70.2 8 2 32.4% 8.4% 3.95 2.68 1.0

Probable Pitching Matchups

Tuesday September 24th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Julio Teheran 32 172.1 10 10 21.8% 11.1% 3.55 5.21 1.6
Danny Duffy 22 125.2 6 6 20.7% 8.3% 4.30 5.08 1.3

The Braves do have some decisions to make. Their top two in their postseason rotation is likely set, but the rest has some questions and Julio Teheran is a candidate to start either game three or four (with Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried in the mix). Teheran never quite became what it seemed like he might after posting a 3.16 ERA through his first two full seasons, but he’s been solid for the most part. He still walks too many, but he’s striking out a decent number of hitters with his best per nine rate of his career and right around the best percentage of his career. He’s put his playoff rotation spot in some doubt with his last two outings, both against the Phillies, where he’s given up nine runs in nine innings with five home runs allowed. The one-time hard thrower now averages just around 90 on his fastball. It’s still been effective, but we all know that there’s just less margin for error when the velocity isn’t there. His sinker has been particularly effective for him with a .172 average allowed and just a .239 SLG. He gets his most whiffs on his slider, but his changeup can get the job done as well. He can be beaten late, though. He’s allowed a sub-.700 OPS each of the first two times through the order, but that jumps to .819 after that. It probably won’t matter in this one since the rosters are expanded and the games are pretty meaningless, but they might be able to do some damage on him late.

If you want some reason for optimism heading into the 2020 season, Danny Duffy’s September since coming off the IL would certainly qualify. He’s been dynamite. He struggled a bit in his first start, but overall, he’s posted a 1.78 ERA in four starts with just 15 hits allowed and one home run in 25.1 innings. He’s getting swings and misses and looking really, really good. In his last start in Oakland, I thought he had some no-hit stuff and while he did give up two hits over seven and the Royals ended up losing, that was about as good as he’s looked all season long. For optimism regarding this start, he had another one of his best starts against this very Braves team in Atlanta. He had a season-high 11 strikeouts over six innings and allowed just one run on five hits in that time.

Wednesday September 25th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Josh Tomlin 49 75.1 2 1 15.6% 2.3% 3.82 5.00 0.0
Mike Montgomery 32 86.1 3 9 17.1% 8.2% 5.00 4.54 -0.3

With the Braves playoff position completely sealed up, they are giving Mike Soroka an extra few days and are setting him up to be ready to pitch in game two of the NLDS (likely against the Cardinals), which means Josh Tomlin gets his first start of the year. And of course it’s against the Royals. Tomlin has been pretty good in relief for the Braves, giving them some quality innings in the middle of the bullpen with great control and not very many strikeouts. It’s who he was with the Indians for a long time as a starter. With guys like him, the margin for error is so slim that they can struggle mightily, but he can also make a team look really silly at times as well. More often than not, it seems, he’s made the Royals look really silly. He’s 10-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 28 career games spanning 149.2 innings against them. He’s struck out just 84 and walked just 17 in that time and has actually given up 17 home runs as well. Since 2016, he’s faced the Royals 12 times (10 starts) and gone 68.2 innings with a 2.36 ERA. So while most of the league might lick their chops when seeing Tomlin scheduled to start, the Royals might not feel quite the same. As this is his first start and the rosters are expanded, I’m guessing he won’t go deep in the game, so there’s not a huge risk of him full-on embarrassing the Royals, but this name still brings up some nightmares.

Mike Montgomery will take the ball one final time this season for the Royals and is hoping to finish strong. He’s hit a bit of a wall of late, which could just be fatigue from a strange season. In his first nine starts with the Royals, he went 46.1 innings and had a 3.69 ERA looking pretty solid. Since then, he’s made three starts and gone 13 innings with an ERA of 8.31 and six walks to go with six strikeouts. It would make sense given that he started the year as a reliever and then literally went two and a half weeks between pitching before he was traded that he would be worn out at the end of the season, so I’m not going to find myself too worried as Montgomery is going to be a key part of the 2020 rotation, but it would be nice to see him finish strong. He’s faced the Braves three times this season in relief as a member of the Cubs and has struggled, allowing five runs on seven hits over 2.2 innings but did strike out five in that time.

Prediction

This is such a weird series to predict since so little is on the line. I don’t think the Braves are all that worried about the result and might want to spend some time figuring out how they’re going to line up their bullpen and maybe even their bench for the postseason. With that in mind, I think the two teams end up splitting this short series, which leaves the Royals in a position that they’ll need to finish the season with one more win to at least improve on 2018.

Poll

How does this series end?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Royals Sweep
    (8 votes)
  • 33%
    Braves Sweep
    (24 votes)
  • 55%
    Split
    (40 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now