After last night’s walkoff win (their seventh!), the Braves will look to accomplish something they haven’t done since 2014 in the series finale: claim a winning season against the Cincinnati Reds. They’ll send a hopefully-effective Julio Teheran to do so, who will attempt to extend his stellar July into another calendar month. Standing in their way, though, will be Sonny Gray, who arguably had an even better July.
Teheran’s July was quite a turnaround from his earlier season performance. He posted a 3.48 FIP and 18.0% K%-BB%. The former is his best mark since August 2017; the latter his best since June 2016. In July, Teheran made five starts with Game Scores (v2) of: 68, 53, 68, 64, 56 — all five above the average (50) — the first time he’s done anything like this since a seven-start stretch between late April and late May of 2016. In other words, this isn’t a level of Teheran effectiveness the Braves have seen for a while, but it’s been an incredibly welcome sight all the same.
Actual results-wise, Teheran’s five starts in July all saw him yield three runs (two earned runs) or fewer. He allowed only three longballs all month and just seven walks while striking out 29 opposing batters. While three of the starts weren’t against high-octane offenses (Marlins, Padres, Royals), Teheran also stifled the Nationals twice in the process, so July hasn’t been a matter of overcoming inferior competition by any stretch. On the season, Teheran’s 76 ERA-, 102 FIP-, and 117 xFIP- is still the source of potential consternation — and by far the biggest ERA-peripherals gap of his career, but the Braves will certainly take it. This is actually the first time since 2013 that Teheran has enlisted both ball-in-play variation and strand rate success into enhancing his run prevention — past ERA-FIP gaps have generally featured only the former. With his July, Teheran has already reached even the rosier fWAR projections for him and currently sits at 1.4, and seems to have substantially increased the likelihood that the Braves pick up his option for 2020.
Teheran’s July was one thing, but Sonny Gray’s was arguably even better. What Gray doesn’t have on Teheran is a July with no hiccups: he allowed four runs on two homers in 5 1⁄3 against the Pittsburgh in his last July start. But, what he does have is a distinct numerical advantage: his 2.14 FIP / 3.03 xFIP in those five starts is crazy good. The FIP is his best mark for a month ever (aside from some one-appearance instances); the xFIP is second-best, after September 2013. Three of Gray’s best five starts as a Red have come in his past five outings, including an eight-inning, zero-run, 12/1 K/BB ratio domination of the Brewers and back-to-back starts of one run allowed with a combined 16/5 K/BB ratio, with one of those outings coming at Coors Field.
On the year, Gray has already amassed 2.7 fWAR (77 ERA-, 78 FIP-, 79 xFIP-), a top-30 mark that was likely all the Reds were hoping for when they pulled off a sign-and-trade for him this offseason. Increasing his slider usage at the expense of his sinker has helped Gray get more swings outside the zone and push his strikeout rate to new heights. (Interestingly, we can write off the “Yankee pitch selection paradigm broke Sonny Gray” narrative based on this season’s data, as Gray is actually less fastball-heavy now than he was with the Yankees.)
This will be the second time each hurler faces his respective opponent. When the Reds took a series in Atlanta earlier this season, both Teheran and Gray factored into (separate) Braves losses. Gray started the series opener and had a weird start where he threw up a 9/0 K/BB ratio and allowed just one run on three hits through five innings, but then was absolutely mauled by the Braves the third time through the order, getting just one out on a go-ahead sacrifice fly (single, double, single, reach on error, sacrifice fly, three total runs allowed in five batters) before being pulled from the game. However, the Reds would immediately stage a third TTO rally of their own to take the lead back for good the following half-inning, and the Braves lost 7-6 in the end. Teheran’s outing, meanwhile, saw him saddled with a bit of a hard-luck defeat in the series finale, as Luis Castillo pacified the Braves with six scoreless frames despite just two strikeouts, while Teheran allowed three runs in the same span (7/3 K/BB ratio, no homers allowed, all three runs knocked in by Eugenio Suarez) and the Braves got only a two-run homer from Freddie Freeman.
Cincinnati Reds @ Atlanta Braves
Sunday, August 4, 2019
1:20 pm EDT
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports South
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1480/1130 AM
XM Radio: XM 186 (Streaming 841)