The Braves and Cubs have had some scheduling snafus this season. After weather postponed a Sunday contest at Wrigley Field in April, the Braves were forced to travel to Chicago once again in May to complete that series, and then both teams headed to Atlanta to play a scheduled three-game set. But, the Atlanta weather also did not cooperate, and the final game of that series was rained out as well. That brings us to today, where the Cubs will stop by to play a makeup game.
In case you’re not aware, the Cubs are good: they’re the only team in the National League with a better record than the Braves, and their 78-54 mark is the majors’ fifth best, four games ahead of the Braves. What’s stunning, though, is that they’ve achieved this without being a very balanced team. While they have one of the league’s top offenses and the best defense in baseball by UZR, their rotation has been a bottom 10 crew and their bullpen has pitched in a middling manner. What’s further stunning is that in this age of homers and not much else, the Cubs have dominated offensively without the long ball: they are middle of the pack in ISO and 20th in MLB in home runs, and have basically gotten to where they are by drawing a bunch of walks.
The Cubs have been more or less on fire in August, going 17-9 and on pace to have their best calendar month so far. The strange thing there, though, is that despite the stellar record, they may not have been beating the teams you’d expect them to. Since August 2, they’ve split a four-game series with the Padres, a four game series with the Pirates, and a two-game series with the Tigers. Their August record being as good as it is has to do with not losing any series so far, and a four-game sweep of the Reds. They most recently took two out of three from the Mets, despite being outscored 12-15 in the series. Tonight’s game will be the start of a very long roadtrip for Chicago, in which they stop in Atlanta for one, then head to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and then Washington for four games.
The Braves have a 3-2 record against the Cubs so far this year, so the worst they can do this season is go .500 against one of their league’s better teams. One of those losses came in Mike Foltynewicz’ last (and only of 2018) start against them. In that game, Foltynewicz allowed just a single run on a wild pitch in five innings while striking out 10, but walked five batters. The Braves went ahead late on a Ronald Acuña Jr. homer, but lost the game when Arodys Vizcaino gave up the tying and go-ahead runs in top of the ninth. Overall, Folty is continuing his breakout season (66 ERA-, 81 FIP-, 89 xFIP-), and is coming off three consecutive near-dominant starts in which he’s allowed a combined two runs across 21 innings with a 24/5 K/BB ratio. While he hasn’t been as good as August as he was in June (which included the 11-K CG SHO), he’s shown no signs of tiring down the stretch. Critically, Foltynewicz has now gone more than two months without a start in which he either walked more than four, or struck out fewer than five. If he keeps that up, the Braves have a good chance of posting a win.
As kind of a weird quirk, this is technically the second game of this series that Foltynewicz will be starting. That aforementioned first start against Chicago came on May 15, and tonight is nominally the makeup of the rainout of the May 17 game.
The Braves will be facing Chicago swingman Mike Montgomery tonight, whom they’ve faced a couple of times in relief this season. Montgomery moved into the Cubs’ rotation in late May and hasn’t been dramatically different as a starter (3.84 FIP, 4.40 xFIP) than he was as a reliever (4.30 FIP, 4.57 xFIP). He’s missed a couple of turns in the rotation with a shoulder ailment; prior to that, he had strung together two pretty good starts, including six scoreless innings against the Royals. Montgomery is an extreme pitch-to-contact guy from the left side (14.4 percent strikeout rate is the fourth-lowest in baseball among pitchers with 90 or more innings), and doesn’t really manage his walks too well either (his K%-BB% is the seventh-lowest among the same group of pitchers). But, he gets lots of grounders (11th-highest rate among the same group of pitchers) and doesn’t allow many homers (10th-lowest HR/9 among the same), so he’s been able to make that profile work for him so far. If the Braves can tag some homers off of him, especially after one of his walks, or if they get some BABIP fortune, they should be able to do okay.
Also, never forget that last July, Mike Montgomery homered off R.A. Dickey while holding the Braves to one run in a blowout loss for Atlanta. There’s some vengeance to be paid.
Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves
7:35 pm EDT
August 30, 2018
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, MLB Network, MLB.TV
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: SXM 183 (Streaming 841)