The Braves lost in pretty irritating fashion yesterday, dropping a game 4-3 despite handily out-xwOBAing their opponents (.343 to .278) and matching them in wOBA (.293 to .288) as well. That sort of stuff happens all the time, of course, but it’s never particularly easy to stomach, especially when the team makes a series of unforced errors that contribute to the loss. On the plus side, though, the division lead of two games didn’t shrink yesterday, and the Braves get a chance to right some wrongs and earn their 72nd win of the season tonight against the same Rockies that bested them yesterday.
It won’t be particularly easy, though, because German Marquez stands in their way. Marquez, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been consistently awesome in Colorado’s often-shredded rotation. For his career, Marquez has 15.6 fWAR in 790 innings (nearly 4 fWAR per 200 innings). Since the start of 2017, the year when he was a full-time major leaguer, he’s 13th among pitchers in fWAR, and joins only Jacob deGrom among the set of hurlers with more fWAR than him as guys with at least 2.3 fWAR in each of the last five seasons, including last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign. Marquez has a career 87 ERA-/85 FIP-/84 xFIP- line, and has consistently been in that 4 WAR/200 innings range after posting an above-average-but-not-quite-that-good rookie campaign in 2017.
2021 has been more of the same for Marquez, as he’s already thrown 156 frames across 27 starts with 3.2 fWAR compiled on the year. His 86/85/84 line for 2021 is basically the mirror of his career. He’s throwing fewer sinkers, curves, and changeups this year to emphasize his slider more, which hasn’t changed him too much, but has shifted his profile to one with more walks due to fewer pitches in the zone, but also weaker, less airborne contact when hitters do connect. If there’s one silver lining for the Braves in terms of facing Marquez in 2021, it’s that his pitch shape is kind of a mess this year — not that it’s impeded his success — and you can hit him hard if you fish out the four-seamer or sinker instead of being bamboozled by his slider or very weird slurveball thing, both of which have whiff rates above 40 percent.
Another possible boon for Atlanta in this matchup is that Marquez has kind of struggled lately — he had one of his worst outings last time out, allowing three homers in six frames to the Rangers of all teams, and hasn’t really had a dominant or even particularly great outing since shutting out the Marlins for six innings back on August 6. He has a pretty horrendous 186/161/105 line over his last four starts, but still, it’s just four starts. Marquez has faced the Braves thrice in his career — they destroyed him, dealing him one of his worst starts ever (if not the worst start of his career) in their first meeting in 2018, then got mostly stifled by him later that season, and then knocked him around again in 2019.
Opposing Marquez will be Atlanta’s Ian Anderson, who hasn’t exactly slouched himself in the pitching department. Anderson comes into this game toting 2.0 fWAR in 101 2⁄3 innings, giving him a gaudy 3.1 in 134 frames for his career. His pitching triple-slash of 80/87/90 is real good... but he’s also still working his way back from an injury that robbed him of about six weeks of major league game time. Anderson hit the shelf on July 11 after leaving the worst start of his career having recorded just seven outs. When he returned, a few days ago against the Giants, he had one of the most bizarre outings you’ll ever see: 5 2⁄3 innings of shutout ball, but with two walks and zero strikeouts. It doesn’t seem too likely that that sort of K-BB relationship will have similarly positive results this time around, so hopefully Anderson just goes back to striking a bunch of guys out, starting with tonight’s game.
Watch Anderson’s pitch location in this one: after various parts early in the season where he consistently missed gloveside, a bunch of his curves and changeups drifted armside in his most recent outing. It seemed to fool the Giants a bit last time out, but it’s probably not part of the gameplan, and could be an early warning that things might be unraveling if Anderson isn’t able to work up-down, like he usually does, without missing horizontally.
Saturday, September 4, 2021
8:10 pm EDT
Coors Field, Denver, CO
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 189