After a big series win against the powerful Minnesota Twins, the Atlanta Braves head to Miami to begin a four game series against the Miami Marlins. The Braves offense erupted in Minnesota, scoring 23 runs in the last two games by utilizing both the long ball and timely hitting. While the bullpen struggled, the offensive fireworks were a site to see. While come from behind efforts and walk off victories are fun, scoring runs in bunches early and often in a game is never a bad thing.
The second half version of the 2019 Braves looks a bit different than the version that produced the best record in baseball from the middle of May to the All-Star Break. In June, it was the success of the offense and the bullpen that was winning games despite the struggles of the Braves’ starters. Now, it is the success of the starting staff in support of the offense that has helped the Braves maintain their lead in the NL East.
Now a month into the second half, the Braves starters are 8th in the majors in ERA and 9th in xFIP since the All-Star Break. Those numbers would look even better if you subtracted the starts made by Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and the newest Cincinnati Red, Kevin Gausman. While it would be a stretch to label the staff’s numbers as dominant over the past month, they have consistently put the Braves in position to win.
Dallas Keuchel (3.86 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 4.06 xFIP) is one of the best examples of this. Individually, Keuchel has declined since his days in Houston. The decline is not significant, but easily noticeable. Atlanta is 4-5 in Keuchel’s nine starts, yet the Braves are 3-0 when they give him five runs or more of support. Though he simply is no longer a true ace, Keuchel has been the stabilizing force Atlanta hoped he would be.
He has pitched six innings or more in five of his last seven starts, four of which he has completed seven or more innings. This includes his one start against Miami right before the All-Star break, when Keuchel had one of his better starts as a Brave. He completed 7.1 innings, allowing two earned runs, five hits, and one walk while producing four strikeouts. Of his 108 pitches, 71 were for strikes. He simply threw the ball consistently over the plate and trusted his defense to support him. The end result was a 4-3 victory for Atlanta.
The Braves certainly could use an effort like that tonight after the bullpen’s struggles in Minnesota and since the trade deadline. The Braves have the worst bullpen ERA and xFIP in the majors in the second half. Shane Greene has certainly experienced the regression many were expecting, while Luke Jackson arguably has not pitched this bad since the opening series against the Phillies. Whether it be fatigue or another reason, the Braves relievers could definitely benefit from a starter or four working late into a game this weekend.
Hopefully, the Atlanta offense can continue to support that cause as well. Tonight, the Marlins will send Elieser Hernandez (5.66 ERA, 6.14 FIP, 5.36 xFIP) to the mound to face the Braves. Hernandez has been electric at Triple-A this year, producing a 1.13 ERA in 48 innings thanks to a 12.94 K/9 measure. However, that success has not translated successfully to the majors as of yet. A significant reason for that could be because Hernandez has been prone to the long ball. He has allowed 11 home runs in 41.1 innings so far this year.
It is logical to assume the Braves should easily win the game tonight and the series as a whole. However, the last time the Braves were favored as heavily as they were tonight, they were swept by the (still) lowly Royals. While the opponents this time are the floundering Fish of Miami, the Braves must take care of business. This is especially true with the Nationals, Phillies, and now Mets playing well. Furthermore, the injury to Austin Riley, along with the extended absences of Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis has limited the Braves options to use in specific match-ups. With the offense not at full force, it is critical that Atlanta wins any games in which they are favored.
WPA- Josh Donaldson- While he did contribute in Minnesota, it was the other three members of the Braves Fantastic Four at the top of their order that shined. Tonight, Donaldson will rain down dominance upon the Marlins to lead Atlanta to victory.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, August 8th, 6:10 pm
Location: Marlins Park, Miami, Florida
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB Network (out-of-market only)
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network