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Three things to watch for the Braves in their upcoming series against the Rockies

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Touki Toussaint needs a bounceback performance on Tuesday

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

After a 4-2 start, the Atlanta Braves will begin the final leg of their nine-game homestand when they open a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies Tuesday at Truist Park. Atlanta took two of three from the Nationals and the Marlins and pushed their NL East lead back to 4.5 games over the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Rockies enter the series at 66-78 overall and are just 21-51 on the road. It is worth noting that Colorado began their road trip by taking three out of four from the Phillies in Philadelphia. Atlanta split four games in Colorado on their last road trip and need to finish this homestand strong before they face another trip out West.

Three things to watch in the upcoming series against the Rockies

Fifth starter spot

Monday’s off day could have allowed the Braves to skip the fifth starter spot, but they elected not to go that way and instead will start Touki Toussaint in Tuesday’s opener. Toussaint’s season began on the Injured List due to a shoulder issue and he didn’t make his debut until the end of July. He pitched well initially but is coming off two ineffective outings in a row where he has failed to make it past three innings. Even before that, aside from a good start against the Orioles, Toussaint was putting up bad peripherals with better results.

Tuesday’s start is an important one for him, especially as the team prepares to head out on a 10-day road trip. A good outing would quiet some of the concern, but should he struggle, the Braves may be forced to look for answers elsewhere. A return to the rotation by Drew Smyly would be an option. Kyle Muller has pitched well since his demotion and Kyle Wright has pitched better of late as well. At any rate, all eyes will be on Touki Toussaint on Tuesday.

Atlanta’s power surge

The Braves launched three more home runs in Sunday’s win and reclaimed the NL lead with 214 home runs on the season. Freddie Freeman hit his 30th homer of the season and became the ninth player in Braves franchise history to have at least three 30-homer seasons. Adam Duvall leads the club with 34 homers, although only 12 of those have come since joining the Braves. Austin Riley is sitting on 29 longballs, and Ozzie Albies now has 28. The last time the Braves had four players with at least 30 home runs was in 1998, when Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez all eclipsed the mark.

Dansby Swanson scuffling

The Braves have an outside shot to have five players finish with at least 30 home runs, but Dansby Swanson is going to need to find himself at the plate. Swanson currently has 26 home runs but is just 3-for-32 in September. That comes on the heels of posting a 141 wRC+ in July and a 139 wRC+ in August. Swanson went 0-for-2 but walked twice in Sunday’s win so perhaps that is a sign that he is righting the ship. This isn’t really another case of terrible luck as plagued him earlier in the season, either: Swanson has just a .226 xwOBA (.186) wOBA in September, and this late-season swoon has been by far his worst stretch of the season:

Tuesday, September 14, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Jon Gray (25 GS, 131.1 IP, 23.5 K%, 9.6 BB%, 4.18 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 4.13 xFIP)

Veteran Jon Gray will get the nod in the opener and will be making his second start since a stint on the Injured List. Gray exited after just two innings in his start back on August 28 against the Dodgers due to forearm tightness. He returned from the shelf last Wednesday where he allowed three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out eight in five innings against the Giants.

Touki Toussaint (10 G, 9 GS, 46.0 IP, 21.9 K%, 9.7 BB%, 4.11 ERA, 5.47 FIP, 4.55 xFIP)

I discussed Toussaint above but the thing to watch for him Tuesday will be his command. He allowed just one hit and two runs (one earned) over three innings but walked four in his last start against the Nationals. He faced the Rockies back on September 2 and allowed six hits, five runs (four earned) over three innings. His outing unraveled after he made a poor throw to second on what would have likely been a double play.

Wednesday, September 15, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Antonio Senzatela (24 GS, 138.0 IP, 15.9 K%, 4.9 BB%, 4.11 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 4.16 xFIP)

Antonio Senzatela allowed four hits and two runs over six innings in his last outing against the Phillies. He faced the Braves in their earlier series in Colorado, allowing six hits and three runs to go along with three strikeouts. The Braves couldn’t seem to elevate his pitches, which led to a lot of disappointing results on contact on pitches in the zone. Senzatela has pitched into the sixth inning in six straight starts and eight of his last nine overall.

Huascar Ynoa (14 G, 13 GS, 72.2 IP, 27.0 K%, 6.6 BB%, 3.22 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 3.42 xFIP)

Huascar Ynoa will make his sixth start since returning from the Injured List in Wednesday’s contest. He has been rock solid in those five starts, posting a 3.54 ERA and a 3.63 FIP in 28 innings. Ynoa allowed three hits, two runs and struck out seven over five innings in his last start against the Nationals. He faced the Rockies at Coors Field back on September 3 and allowed five hits and four runs over 5 2/3 innings.

Thursday, September 16, 12:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

German Marquez (29 GS, 167.0 IP, 24.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.93 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 3.54 xFIP)

German Marquez will get the call for the Rockies in Thursday’s matinee. He is coming off an excellent outing where he allowed six hits over six scoreless innings against the Phillies. He faced the Braves at Coors Field on September 4 and allowed five hits and four runs, two earned over five innings. Interestingly, Marquez has been much worse on the road this season putting up a 4.93 ERA in 13 starts away from Coors Field, but his home and road xFIPs are almost identical — a much lower home fly ball rate despite better peripherals on the road is likely driving the difference.

Ian Anderson (21 GS, 109.2 IP, 23.0 K%, 10.1 BB%, 3.61 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 3.94 xFIP)

Ian Anderson will take his turn in Thursday’s series finale for Atlanta. He looked more like his old self in his last start, where he allowed five hits, two runs and struck out nine over five innings. That came after he had failed to strike out a single batter in his first two starts after returning from injury. Anderson matched up against Marquez at Coors Field earlier this month, allowing five hits, four walks and four runs in just three innings. Afterwards Anderson, called that start probably the worst of his career, a statement easily supported by the numbers.