We are less than a week away.
In what has been a mostly exciting and enjoyable (sometimes arduous) journey through the 2019 regular season, the Braves quest for a championship begins in 6 days. While the anticipation for that moment builds daily, some dominos still need to fall in place for the Braves to be as confident as possible that they can make this season truly special.
Obviously, it all begins with health. Though Atlanta has seen the return of several regulars from injuries in September, their depth has certainly been depleted with the loss of Charlie Culberson and the uncertainty surrounding Johan Camargo. Unfortunately, that concern has expanded and is now centered on Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. Sure, reports suggest both stars are dealing with minor ailments and should be ready for the postseason. However, no one knows if the injuries will surface again, or if either player will be at 100%. Obviously, Atlanta needs both Freeman and Acuna Jr. at their best to have the best chance at making a postseason run. While there is certainly a chance they both will be healthy, the uncertainty in the present creates a feeling of uneasiness that is not ideal.
One area where the Braves have had good fortune is the good health their pitching staff has had this year (KNOCK ON EVERY PIECE OF WOOD YOU CAN FIND, THEN KNOCK AGAIN...IN FACT, SYMBOLICALLY CHOP DOWN A TREE SO YOU CAN HAVE A PIECE OF WOOD TO KNOCK ON AT ALL TIMES.) Furthermore, the improvement of Dallas Keuchel and Mike Foltynewicz over the past six weeks may be the biggest development of the season for the Braves. While Mike Soroka and Max Fried have generated the most buzz with their breakout seasons, Keuchel and Foltynewicz have emerged as arguably the best options for the first two NLDS games next week. With their experience and past levels of success, the Braves playoff rotation seems deeper and more formidable than many previously thought.
Keuchel (3.59 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 3.99 XFIP) hopes to have one more quality outing in his last tuneup before the playoffs. While his production may not compare to other potential Game 1 starters, he has consistently done well at his main job as a starter. Since August 1st, in Keuchel’s ten starts, the Braves are 7-3. Two of the three losses were the debacle against the Marlins in early August and his second to last start against Philadelphia. Besides those two starts, Keuchel has pitched at least six innings while allowing less than three runs, producing eight quality starts. In seven of those eight starts, he has allowed two runs or less. If Keuchel can continue that consistency, and the Braves offense is back to good health, Atlanta has to feel pretty good about their chances in a playoff game with Keuchel starting.
Keuchel has been especially effective against the Mets. In two August starts, Keuchel pitched 13 innings, allowing nine hits, five walks, zero runs and producing 14 strikeouts. Both games were wins for Atlanta at a critical time for the team as it was bouncing back from its struggles in Miami.
For the Mets, Marcus Stroman (3.23 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 4.07 xFIP) will take the mound in his final start of the season. While Stroman has not been as good as he was in Toronto before August, he also has done well at his main job since arriving in New York. The Mets are 7-3 in Stroman’s ten starts since the deadline, including a 10-8 win back in August over the Braves. While neither the Mets nor the Braves have anything more than pride to play for, that is the exact thing the competitive Stroman will likely use for motivation tonight. After a top 10 Cy Young finish in 2017, Stroman struggled immensely in 2018. With the ability to get his tenth win of the season, Stroman will desperately want to end his resurgent 2019 season on a good note heading into the offseason.
While injuries have put individual pursuits for historical accomplishments on hold, with a sweep, the Braves could win 100 games. Furthermore, there is significant speculation that Ender Inciarte could return tonight. If Inciarte can come back healthy and Dansby Swanson can build off Wednesday night’s performance, the confidence level in the Braves depth will certainly rise.
At the end of the day, for the Braves and their fans, the hope is to simply get through the next three days without any further injuries or struggles. However, winning 100 games while sweeping the Mets at Citi Field would be a memorable way to end the season. Hopefully, both of these things can occur and Atlanta will have an enjoyable weekend in the Big Apple.
WPA-Ender Inciarte- GOOD VIBRATIONS!
Game Date/Time: Friday, September 27th, 7:10 ET
Location: Freddie (formerly known as Citi) Field, Flushing, New York
TV: Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network