If you had Robbie Erlin as the first pitcher from outside the Atlanta organization to make a start for them in 2020, congratulations. You are a wizard.
Everyone else, though, may be a bit confused, and perhaps perplexed, as to how Erlin is today’s scheduled starter for the series finale in Miami, but that’s the world we find ourselves in. Erlin spent his entire career through 2019 with the Padres, but elected free agency when he was outrighted to the minors at the end of last season. He likely would’ve been non-tendered anyway, as the Padres were apparently loath to pay more than a million or two for a reliever with still-good peripherals (82 FIP-, 93 xFIP-) when he was giving up both hard contact and runs (126 ERA-, .335 xwOBA, .400 xwOBACON). That was the end of the Erlin saga in San Diego, which was ultimately successful: 3.9 fWAR in 313 innings, split about 33/67 between starts and relief appearances. After he left the Padres, the Pirates scooped Erlin up on a minor league deal. He made their 2020 roster, but made just two relief appearances before being cut. The Braves claimed him off waivers, but his first appearance in an Atlanta uniform was pretty awful: his very first pitch as a Brave became a Didi Gregorius grand slam that turned a 5-1 deficit into a 9-1 rout, and three pitches later, Jean Segura went back-to-back with Gregorius. Later in the outing, J.T. Realmuto also took Erlin deep, giving him only his second three-homer outing of his career, and the first since 2016.
It goes without saying that the Braves are probably going to be hoping for something more akin to 2018 Erlin (1.6 fWAR in 106 innings as a swingman) than whatever happened last Monday in relief of Sean Newcomb. Whether that’s what they get... we’ll see. It’s hard to tell exactly what Erlin’s fate is going to be — was he justifiably exiled from two organizations due to a decrease ability to manage contact, as he showed in 2019, or was it a blip and he presents a quality, if unorthodox, long relief option? We won’t know definitively after this outing, but we’ll at least be able to start gathering some ideas.
Meanwhile, the ailing Braves will potentially have their hands full as they try to put some runs on the board. The Braves have only scored seven runs in their last three games, and the offense has dropped to 13th in MLB (101 wRC+) from seventh (103 wRC+) at the beginning of the week. Starting for Miami will be Elieser Hernandez, who has two small things going for him: (1) his best career start, six shutout innings, came against the Braves in August 2019; and (2) Hernandez has been solid through two 2020 starts, with a 10/2 K/BB ratio and one longball allowed. Neither of these things mean much in the grand scheme of things, Hernandez still has an xFIP above 5.00 both in 2020 and for his career, and his career fWAR is still negative, but you can bet people will point to all three of these things (weak Braves offense, Hernandez being good against the Braves, Hernandez being good in 2020) if the Braves scuffle to score runs once again.
Hernandez has definitely been better against the Braves in his career than his overall performance — 5.40s FIP/xFIP in general, and 4.51 FIP / 4.82 xFIP against the Braves in eight career appearances. In the three starts, the Braves roughed him up twice and he cruised in the other, which was the game that Dallas Keuchel completely imploded out of nowhere.
If the Braves lose this game, it will be their first series loss to the Marlins since the end of the 2017 season, as they have absolutely dominated the Fish in 2018 and 2019. But, it’s 2020, everything is weird (and sad), so we’ll see what happens.
Atlanta Braves @ Miami Marlins
Sunday, August 16, 2020
1:10 pm EDT
Marlins Park, Miami, FL
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB Network (out of market), MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: XM Streaming 841