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Reds rotation will be formidable challenge for Braves

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The Braves face off against the Reds in the first round, so I take a look at the Reds’ pitching options

2019 MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves will begin the 2020 MLB Postseason Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds in the Wild Card round. Cincinnati’s rotation figures to be the biggest obstacle the Braves will face in advancing as it finished among the league’s best in the 60-game regular season.

Before we start, I’d like to point out that all of these pitching numbers come against opponents in the central that generally did not have good offenses, so the pitching stats are likely substantially better than they would be against a sample of roughly average offenses, and the Braves offense is perhaps the best in the league this season. This point is highlighted in the tweet below from our very own Scott Coleman. Scott in another tweet points out that 90% of the games the Reds played were against an opponent with an offense in roughly the bottom third of the league by wRC+, while 55% of their games came against offenses in the bottom 20% of the league.

It is also worth noting that of the pitchers I will discuss in this article, only Amir Garrett throws left-handed, so the Braves won’t get to make much use of the favorable platoon splits against lefty pitchers like those of Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall. On the positive side, the horde of right handed pitching should favor Freddie Freeman and a lineup that hasn’t had any issues scoring runs in bunches.

The Starters

Cincinnati Reds v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This was the matchup that many Braves fans feared, because the Reds boast what is perhaps the best three-man starting rotation in the league, with NL Cy Young favorite Trevor Bauer along with studs Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.

Bauer is set to pitch Game 1, which should match him up against Max Fried. Bauer has had a spectacular 2020 season, posting a miniscule 1.73 ERA along with an impressive 12.33 K/9 and only 2.10 BB/9. Bauer does give up some home runs, with 1.11 HR/9 this season, which may help out the heavy-hitting Braves offense. He has a low/mid 90s fastball which he throws in both a four-seam and sinker grip, along with a slider and curveball. All of these pitches have been quite good this season, but the slider has been the most effective. With 73 innings over 11 starts this season, and a fiercely competitive mindset, Bauer will want to go at least six innings in game one on Wednesday.

Luis Castillo is lined up to pitch Game 2. Castillo has also had a fantastic 2020 season, with a 3.21 ERA along with a 2.65 FIP and 2.82 xFIP which suggest that Castillo may have even been a bit unlucky. He had only slightly worse strikeout and walk numbers than Bauer, with a 11.44 K/9 and a 3.09 BB/9. Castillo has an upper 90s fastball, which he throws about half the time, evenly split between a four-seam and sinker grip, along with a changeup that is regarded as one of the best in the majors, and a good slider that he mixes in. It looks like the Braves are going to need to hunt the fastball against Castillo, since that is the pitch he’s allowed the most damage on, but he has great velocity, which the Braves’ bats have struggled with at times this season. Castillo has also averaged around six innings pitched per appearance this season.

Sonny Gray is set to pitch a Game 3 if the series is not yet decided, and would presumably match up against Atlanta’s Kyle Wright. Gray has been great for Cincinnati since they traded for him from the Yankees. He has had a produced a good 3.73 ERA, which his xERA (3.75) agrees with, but his 2.95 FIP and 3.03 xFIP are a little bit more favorable. His strikeout numbers are again spectacular, with 12.08 K/9, but he will walk some batters, with a 3.91 BB/9. Gray has been a little bit less of an innings-eater than Bauer and Castillo averaging around five innings per start. His arsenal consists of a low/mid-90s fastball, which he throws in both a four-seam and sinker grip about evenly split, along with a good curveball that he throws a lot (27.1% of the time) and a slider that he throws a little less (16.5% of the time). Like Castillo, the four-seam fastball has been the pitch that batters have done the most damage on this season.

For all three of these pitchers it will be important for the Braves’ batters to be patient and try to make these starters work in an attempt to get them out of the game early.

The Bullpen

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Reds have had a middling bullpen this season by fWAR, but they have some really good arms. The bullpen is headlined by closer Raisel Iglesias, who has had a strong season with a 2.91 ERA. Cincinnati also went out and acquired Archie Bradley from Arizona, who has been very good for a few years now and has a 2.95 ERA and 2.59 FIP this season. They also have a number of other good arms.

***Before I list the stats for this next group, know that I have only counted their stats as a reliever and during the first time through the order, since that is almost certainly the scenario that they will pitch in during this short series and some of these pitchers have started and/or had long relief appearances.***

Another veteran arm is two way player Michael Lorenzen, who has a lackluster 5.31 ERA and 5.06 FIP this season, but has been much better in the past, which is a much more representative sample, as he posted an ERA in the 2s in this situation last season. Other notable relievers include rookie Tejay Antone (1.84 ERA, 1.89 FIP), former Braves top prospect Lucas Sims (1.52 ERA, 3.95 FIP this season), and veteran Amir Garrett (2.50 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and 2.86 xFIP this season).

The Bottom Line

The Reds have the pitching to make this a really difficult matchup for Atlanta in both the starting rotation and the bullpen, especially if the great starters can go deep enough into games to keep Cincinnati in their top 6 bullpen arms that I discussed. The Reds pitching has only played three games against an offense that is even close to the quality of the Atlanta’s in the White Sox this season, so the Braves’ bats will be able to challenge them in ways that they haven’t seen yet this season. This should be a fun matchup between the Braves’ fantastic offense, and the strong pitching arms that Cincinnati can throw out there against them.