After dropping two in a row to the Yankees to snap their nine-game winning streak, the Braves sat idle for two days. Meanwhile, both the Phillies and Mets lost their last two games, so the Braves gained a game in the standings, and 8.5 percent in playoff odds, which now sit at 86 percent. It’s an amazing turnaround, given that those same odds sat at just 7.0 percent on July 23, and 9.6 percent a month ago. While the Braves have what is now a fairly comfy 5.5-game cushion in the division, though, this tough stretch of schedule rolls on. The Yankees are done with (that went poorly), but the Braves now have the Giants on tap, before heading out to play the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, and then the Rockies at Coors Field, before they return home for a relative breather of a homestand (Nationals, Marlins, Rockies).
So, the Giants are coming to town. And boy, there are apparently not the Giants of your slightly younger self. After making the playoffs in 2016 on the back of an 87-win season, the Giants have scuffled in recent history, with four straight sub-.500 campaigns. In 2021, though, they have baseball’s best record and third-best run differential, and a playoff odds chart very reminiscent of the Braves in 2018: starting from basically nothing, and steadily climbing to 100 percent. This turnaround has been led by some unlikely heroes, but isn’t a mirage built off of an egregious record in one-run games or anything similar. The Giants are fourth in position player fWAR and sixth in pitching fWAR (rotation sixth, relief corps ninth). They’ve weathered some injuries and mix-and-matched their way to some incredible production, with 16 (!!) position players with 100+ PAs so far (the Braves have 14), eight of whom already have more than 1.0 fWAR. The team is led by 34-year-olds Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, who combined have over a third of the Giants’ position player production, which more or less summarizes the bewildering nature of their season.
The pitching’s been amazing, too. The Giants have used 10 starters this year, and the only two with an FIP- above 100 are Scott Kazmir and Zack Littell, who’ve pitched a combined seven frames (four starts) when listed on the lineup card. By xFIP-, you have only Aaron Sanchez (seven starts), Sam Long (five starts), and Littell (two starts) of a below-average nature. Meanwhile, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb have made for a hefty one-two punch (5.9 combined fWAR so far, basically the same as Charlie Morton and Max Fried but in 20 fewer innings), while Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, and Johnny Cueto have been solid-to-very good as well. The bullpen’s been a work-in-progress, with 27 relievers used so far, but the Giants have done well to devote only about eight percent of its innings to below-replacement performers. (By comparison, the Braves have used 20 relievers, and 20 percent of their relief innings have been pitched by guys with negative fWAR on the season.) So, basically, this should be a pretty good series, and not in the “the Braves are overwhelmingly favored” sense.
One last thing about the Giants: they aren’t really riding any kind of banked win wave and just playing out the string. They went 16-10 in April, 18-10 in May, 16-9 in June, 15-10 in July, and are 18-5 so far in August. They’re on a five-game winning streak, haven’t lost a series in over a month (their last series loss was against the Pirates for some reason), just swept the Mets on the road (thanks!), and have held first place alone consistently since May 31.
Which means... it’s up to Max Fried to stop ‘em. Fried, of course, is coming off his first-ever complete game shutout, which came against the Orioles a week ago. His seasonal line now sits at 2.5 fWAR in 118 2⁄3 innings of work, with an 83 ERA-/82 FIP-/86 xFIP-. After a lot of inconsistency earlier in the season, Fried’s finally strung together five good starts in a row — he’s allowed five runs (four earned), four walks, and struck out 32 in his last 34 innings.
As for the other half of the pitching matchup, it seems like the Braves will be facing old friend Kevin Gausman in this one. That’s perhaps still a little uncertain at the time of writing, as Gausman is currently on the COVID-19 version of the Injured List with post-vaccine side effects. It seems like he’ll be making this start, but we’ll wait and see if there are any announced changes. If he does, the Braves are going to have their hands full, as Gausman’s been a top-10 pitcher in baseball with 3.8 fWAR and a 61/71/81 line. People, especially Braves fans, will ask what he’s doing differently, and the answer is still “not much” — his two-pitch mix is essentially the same as when the Braves jettisoned him due to poor results and fine peripherals (still one of the worst moves made by this current Braves regime), and the real change is that he’s throwing a tick harder while getting some extra vertical separation on his split-change. That’s been enough, apparently, to move him from “decent” to “one of the best in baseball,” and the Giants are reaping the rewards of getting those slight improvements out of him.
If not Gausman, I have no idea what the Giants will do here, so stay tuned.
Friday, August 27, 2021
7:20 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 189