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Braves vs. D-backs preview: Blair-Greinke Showdown

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The Braves welcome their blockbuster trade partners to town, and one of those trade pieces will face off against the team that drafted and signed him.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After an okay road trip where the Braves went 3-4, they return home to face off their second NL West opponent of the season: the Arizona Diamondbacks. These are the same Diamondbacks that appeared to go all-in on 2016 this offseason, signing Zack Greinke to a monster contract and trading for Shelby Miller to further bolster their rotation. Of course, that trade delivered unto the Braves a cornucopia of value, and some of that value, in the form of Aaron Blair is going to be taking the mound tonight to face off against Greinke.

Meanwhile, Ender Inciarte, who also came over in the deal for Miller, might be back for Saturday's game, but will likely miss tonight's contest as he rehabs from a hamstring strain he suffered in the season's first week. The other piece in the deal, Dansby Swanson, is currently destroying minor league pitching.

In any case, the Diamondbacks have not exactly played according to design. They have the sixth-worst record in the majors and the fifth-worst run differential. Realistic expectations (except, perhaps, from Arizona's Front Office) may not have been that high for them to begin with (they look like a .500ish team on paper to me), but their start has got to be disappointing, especially given that the rotation they tried so hard to upgrade has not really paid dividends.

Zack Greinke is one cause of concern: he has a 5.50 ERA to date, largely as a result of two outings (out of six starts this season) where he's been blasted for seven runs. His peripherals are still pretty good (3.74 FIP, 3.74 xFIP), but nowhere near his Cy Young-quality levels of the recent past. He hasn't posted an FIP that high since 2007, back when he was just a league average starter-type with the Royals.

His counterpart, Aaron Blair, will be making his third big league start, and has established himself well in his first two outings. Since Blair has yet to allow a homer, his FIP is actually lower than Greinke's (3.70), and he's ridden a .242 BABIP-against to a handy 3.18 ERA. On the flip side, he's only registered four strikeouts to five walks in those starts, and disaster may loom if those peripherals don't right themselves soon. Still, he oozes potential and has managed contact fairly well so far. For those desiring a refresher, Blair allowed three runs in five and one-third pitched against the Mets in his debut, and followed that up with a six-inning, one-run performance against the Cubs. Hopefully his third start is even better.

The Diamondbacks' position players have actually been fairly decent: the team is pretty much dead average in MLB on both the hitting and fielding side, and given that teams often sacrifice one for the other, in aggregate they're in MLB's top 10 for position player value at the moment. One name aiding that placement has been Brandon Drury, who the Diamondbacks acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade before the 2013 season. Drury has killed the ball so far with a 133 wRC+ and five homers in about 90 PAs. His BABIP is not overly inflated (.328) but his HR/FB% is over 20%, so it's kind of a 2015 Adonis Garcia situation, but the Snakes probably don't mind, as they could use all they help they can get.

Unfortunately, that hasn't helped the team too much, as they've lost six straight via sweeps by the Rockies and the Marlins. The offense has been Braves-level bad during that stretch (12 runs in six games), and the bullpen has been reminiscent of the 2015 Braves, blowing a couple of games and bleeding runs in others. Jean Segura has had a resurgence after two a change of scenery and two years of replacement-level play (134 wRC+ but .371 BABIP), but Paul Goldschmidt has been relatively quiet, with just a 126 wRC+ (he's closer to 150 for his career), and has scuffled a bit in the last week (two singles in 17 PAs).

Hail of bullets:

  • Zack Greinke allowed 24 total runs up through July last year. He's already allowed 23 so far this season. He's pitched pretty well against the Braves in his career (five starts), but hasn't been to Turner Field since 2011. AJ Pierzynski has a "ton" (55) of PAs against him, and has hit him pretty well over that sample: .389/.400/.611 with three homers and three doubles.
  • The Braves have scored just nine runs since (and through) Blair's last start. That's probably not even surprising at this point. The team average since then is .198.
  • Let's highlight some poor batting lines of Braves that have hit second recently: Adonis Garcia, .260/.321/.310, 69 wRC+; Daniel Castro, .215/.250/.231, 29 wRC+. Awesome. Even Tyler Flowers, still rocking a .409 BABIP, is hitless in his last 13 four games, though his 56 wRC+ still beats AJ Pierzynski's 50.
  • Nick Markakis should be back in the lineup today after dealing with a family issue on Wednesday that necessitated his absence.
  • The Diamondbacks haven't won a series in Atlanta since 2007, and are just 7-18 at the Ted since then. But even given their struggles, they have a decent chance to do so this weekend, as the Braves have won just one game at home all year.
  • This is a nice article about today's starting pitcher and some of our community members. Yay. (That's a non-sarcastic yay, by the way.)