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Braves look to keep rolling as Sanchez returns to face former club

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Anibal Sanchez will be making his first start since departing after being hit with a comebacker. Can Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves keep rolling?

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Braves have to be feeling pretty good right now. After Sunday’s thrilling defeat of the Brewers and a dominant doubleheader sweep of the Marlins, the Braves now sit alone in first place, one game ahead of the Phillies. About two weeks after their playoff odds hit a nadir after a four-game losing streak, the Braves have gone 12-4 since to catapult themselves into the second-best record in the National League and playoff odds above 50 percent. They’ll look to continue their run tonight, and extend their three-game winning streak, as they once again tangle with the Miami Marlins for Game Three of a four-game set (or a three-game set extended by a doubleheader due to a make-up game from earlier).

The Braves will send Anibal Sanchez to the mound for his 16th start of the year. His last start, coming on the final day of the Braves’ most recent road trip, was very short-lived: Sanchez pitched two scoreless innings, and was removed from precautionary reasons after being hit by a comebacker from Michael A. Taylor as the final play of the bottom of the second. (The Braves ended up losing the game 6-3, as Wes Parsons could not keep the Nationals in check.) On the season, Sanchez is rocking a 70 ERA- to go with a 92 FIP- and a 94 xFIP-. He struggled a bit immediately after the All-Star Break, allowing eight runs in 12 and a third innings due to being touched up for three homers across those two games, but then bounced back to toss six scoreless against the Mets.

Sanchez hasn’t yet faced the Marlins this year; the veteran spent his first six-and-a-half years with the club before being dealt to the Tigers, and hasn’t pitched against his former team since 2016.

Meanwhile, the Marlins will deploy righty Trevor Richards against the Braves. Richards is an interesting case — undrafted out of college, he made four minor league stops in two years, posting incredibly strong K/BB ratios along the way, before starting 2018 as part of the Miami rotation. Despite okay results, he spent May at AAA, and then returned in early June. As a young-ish (25) pitcher getting his first taste of the majors, Richards has had not-unexpected bouts of inconsistency. He’s had seven good starts out of 17, including a dominant two-start stretch in late July where he pitched 12 and two-thirds one-run innings with a 14/3 K/BB ratio, but has also mixed in six clunkers, including a couple of games where he issued six or more walks, and three starts where he didn’t make it into the fourth. Overall, Richards has a 101 ERA-, 93 FIP-, and 107 xFIP- on the season. Despite a middling start against the Cardinals last time out (three runs in five and two-thirds), he’s been really tough since mid-July: 31 ERA-, 72 FIP-, 91 xFIP- in five starts.

Richards leans incredibly heavily on his quality changeup, throwing it about 30 percent of the time. As a result, he’s not particularly vulnerable to lefties, and his xFIP has exhibited no platoon split so far. However, given that all he has to show opposing hitters is his mediocre, not-too-fast, 91 mph fastball and a meh curveball, his effectiveness drops steeply after hitters have gotten a few looks at him. The Braves should try to get him into some poor counts and sit on his fastball; with two strikes, they need to watch for the changeup, which he uses as his putaway pitch against both lefties and righties. Sitting first-pitch curveball could also lead to good results, as Richards throws a lot of them in an attempt to get ahead and closer to changeup territory.

Richards and the Braves have not crossed paths thus far, so this will be every Atlanta hitter’s first look at the rookie.

Lastly, this chart is very, very fun. Where will it end? The kid’s PAs are a must-watch right now.

Game Info

Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

7:35 pm EDT

SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Fox Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network