It is wonderful that this moment could happen on a Friday night.
Especially this one, with Braves fans from all across the South getting hyped for a big sports weekend of baseball, football, and hopefully celebration. Before the festivities begin, business must be attended too. After a fourteen game stretch where the Braves took care of business versus the Phillies and the Nationals, the Braves find themselves one simple victory away from being crowned the 2019 NL EAST Division Champs.
While the Braves have seen their division lead increase and the pitching has remained effective overall, the Braves have had their struggles offensively over the past week. As a whole, they have produced a .300 wOBA, 82 wRC+, and .710 OPS. While Ozzie Albies (205 wRC+) and Matt Joyce (143 wRC+) have done well, Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, and Dansby Swanson have all struggled immensely over the past seven days. Fortunately, Nick Markakis has stepped right back into his everyday role without missing a beat (117 wRC+ since return).
It is logical to assume the struggles of the offense are due to fatigue. Obviously, each of the Braves regulars should have multiple days off once they clinch, but Atlanta also must be mindful to not get too complacent. Their offense is the reason they are a legitimate title contender, and Kevin Seitzer and the rest of the Braves staff must make sure Atlanta’s bats are ready for October.
Fortunately, both Acuna Jr. and Freeman have something to build off of from Thursday. Both of the Braves superstars had two run hits off Aaron Nola to lead the Braves to a 5-4 victory. Thankfully, the competition becomes a bit easier to navigate on Friday Night. The Giants will send right-hander Tyler Beede (5.02 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 4.77 xFIP) to the mound. A former first-round pick and top Giants prospect, Beede has experienced some growing pains in his first full year in San Francisco's rotation. While he struggled in the first half of 2019, Beede performed a bit better in July, but then ran into trouble again in August. Despite the ups and downs, Beede will come into tonight’s game on a two game winning streak. Over his last two starts, wins against the Dodgers and Marlins, Beede has pitched 11 1⁄3 innings, allowing no runs, seven hits, four walks and registering 10 strikeouts. While the Braves should have their opportunities, Beede will likely be pitching with a good amount of confidence to delay the Braves celebration.
For the Braves, Mike Foltynewicz (4.80 ERA, 5.10 FIP. 4.85 xFIP) will take the mound in hopes of continuing his sensational second half turnaround. As the numbers above suggest, this season has been a struggle overall. However, the past six weeks have been the exact opposite. In nine starts since August 1st, Foltynewicz has produced a 2.76 ERA/ 3.74 FIP/ 4.32 xFIP line, which has resulted in a 5-0 record over that stretch. While the strikeouts are still not to the level they were last year, Foltynewicz’s overall effectiveness is similar to his breakout in 2018. Not only has he pitched his way into the Braves’ postseason plans, but with the recent struggles of Max Fried and Julio Teheran, he likely has earned himself a spot in Atlanta’s playoff rotation.
The Braves should be motivated more than ever to secure the division title tonight. Beyond just becoming back to back division champs, the Braves will also earn themselves more than a week’s worth of preparation to set the playoff roster and make sure all the regulars are rested and ready to produce. As for the fans, tonight should be one of the best atmospheres in the history of Suntrust Park. The Battery should be beaming with excitement and pride, and everyone should be ready to celebrate what has been a very successful and special season. If the Braves simply play to the level that got them to this point, there is a very good chance it will be a memorable weekend for the Braves and their fans.
WPA- FOLTY- A high stakes situation for the man known as High Foltage? Odds are his stuff will be electrifying.
Game Date/Time: Friday, September 20, 7:20 PM ET
Location: SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, MLB Network (out-of-market only)
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network