It’s unavoidable, it’s already happened: the Braves have lost a series to the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in baseball. Actually, that’s not even true anymore: with their two consecutive wins over the Braves, the Orioles have surpassed the Royals and are now only baseball’s second-worst team. You’re welcome, Orioles. (The Braves still maintain baseball’s sixth-best record, though the Phillies now lurk 1.5 games behind them in the division.)
What hasn’t yet happened is a sweep. The Braves have lost seven series on the season, including this one, but have only been swept once. To avoid the sweep again, they’ll need to do some damage against David Hess and/or get a good outing from Brandon McCarthy.
Hess, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014 who hasn’t really ever registered as a key prospect (never ranked by Baseball America; highest accolade was a meaningful #16 ranking by MLB Pipeline in 2016), has been pressed into starting duty this season given the shambles that is the Baltimore rotation. He’s performed about as poorly as you’d expect, with a gross 4.82 ERA, 6.45 FIP, and 6.06 xFIP. Among starters with 30 or more innings, he’s bottom 15 in fWAR (-0.3), has the fourth-lowest strikeout rate, and the 39th-highest walk rate. He’s also given up tons of homer, i.e., nine in seven starts, so hopefully the Braves can get back on the longball horse.
The weird thing about Hess is that as dreadful as his numbers are, he’s actually also reeled off a stretch of good starts. It’s just that when he’s been bad, he’s been blasted but allowed to continue. He’s had three starts this season where he’s allowed five or more innings and failed to finish five innings; in the other four he’s allowed run totals of 3, 1, 1, and 0. On the one hand, two of those poor starts have come recently, as he’s allowed 10 runs, three homers, and has a 7/4 BB/K ratio in his last eight innings. On the other hand, he had allowed just two runs in the 18 and two-thirds innings before then, so we’ll see. The Braves should crush him, but they also should have crushed Alex Cobb and didn’t, so expectations seem fairly meaningless here.
Brandon McCarthy’s route to starting this game has been a roundabout one. Due to a small pitching logjam caused by Mike Soroka’s return from the DL and the existence of Anibal Sanchez, McCarthy was relegated to the bullpen after his start against the Padres two Fridays ago. However, he never pitched out of the bullpen. He was also not supposed to be making this start, as Mike Foltynewicz was intended to come off the (phantom?) Disabled List for today’s game. But, with Foltynewicz suffering some kind of setback (wasn’t this supposed to be a phantom DL stint for roster management purposes?), McCarthy is now being pressed into duty. It remains to be seen how well McCarthy pitches with the long layoff, but this season, he’s had better results pitching on standard rest than when he’s gotten five or six days (though the direction is inconclusive, as he’s been far worse with five than with six).
Overall, McCarthy’s had a somewhat unfortunate season, which may be why he was the one relegated to the non-used section of the bullpen over the past week-plus. Early in the season, his strikeout and walk rates tended in the wrong direction, which combined with an elevated homer rate to really trash his peripherals as well as his run allowance. Since then, though, he’s gotten the walk and strikeout rates back in line. It’s the homer rate that has remained far too high, and has led to some poor performances. McCarthy’s HR/FB is an egregious 21%, which is particularly striking given that the past few years, he has done his utmost to suppress homers. Combine that with an elevated BABIP and you get a 4.89/4.62/3.67 pitching line (123/116/91 on a minus basis) where you can see that the homers have been the whole problem (and an elevated BABIP-against has also hurt). Another issue: McCarthy used to be at least decent at getting infield pops, but has barely elicited any this year: for his career, he has a perfectly average 9.9 percent rate; this season, it’s a minuscule 1.6 percent.
Part of McCarthy’s issue, from a results perspective, has been the homer rate and the BABIP really messing with his ability to yield decent results consistently. The last time he had two consecutive above-average starts was mid-May. In his last four outings, he has alternated the okay/good with the bad: five allowed to the Mets, two in six to the Nationals, four to the Dodgers, two to the Padres. While he’s really worked hard to trim his walk rate (just two in his last four starts), the homers have been killing him (six in the same stretch).
Baltimore Orioles @ Atlanta Braves
Sunday, June 24, 2018
1:35 pm EDT
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network