After notching their best winning streak since 2013, the Braves have run into an annoyingly-shaped roadblock during their first two games at Wrigley Field — where the same problems that hounded them in April and May reared their heads.
The Braves snapped their streak and dropped the series opener 1-0. They had a fine .327 xwOBA for the game, but a .181 wOBA... yet still lost to a Cubs team with a .160 xwOBA and .171 xwOBA in the game. They then lost 6-3 on Saturday despite a stellar .381 xwOBA and even a fine enough .306 wOBA, because the Cubs somehow managed a .391 wOBA on top of a .280 xwOBA. C’est la vie, so it goes, etc., but it’s always annoying when it does. The Braves haven’t had a lower xwOBA than their opponents in a game since May 29, and the streak was aided in large part by not dropping games where they had better offensive inputs than their opponents. Yet, that’s what’s happened to end the streak and deliver another loss, and the Braves are going to have to figure out how to defy the vengeful baseball gods to get back on the winning path.
This game has a lot at stake in the micro sense. A win is the difference between a 3-3 road trip and a 4-2 one. A win would at least tie the season series with the Cubs at 3-3 rather than making it a losing, 2-4 one. Coming into this series, the Braves had last been swept by the Cubs in 2017, but haven’t lost a series at Wrigley since 2017, and haven’t been swept at Wrigley since 2015. Avoiding the sweep is still on the table, even with the series loss. In the macro sense, there isn’t too much, as the Braves’ good June run has kicked their playoff odds up above 75 percent... but most of the NL contenders have won on Friday and Saturday, so their relative position in the standings has eroded nonetheless. They currently trail the Mets by 6.5 games in the division, and have a half-game lead over the Brewers for the final Wild Card spot. The Braves also haven’t lost three games in a row all season, so avoiding that ignoble mark would be great too.
The Braves will throw Ian Anderson at the Cubs in the hopes of avoiding a sweep. Anderson continues to have a weird and underwhelming season — 114 ERA-, 114 FIP-, 108 xFIP-. His xERA, which I calculate would be around a 94 xERA-, is his best ERA estimator, but everything else looks pretty bad. The obvious big difference for Anderson is something like this:
- Pre-2022: 3.55 FIP, 3.92 xFIP first two times through; 4.77 FIP, 3.60 xFIP afterwards
- 2022: 3.76 FIP, 4.10 xFIP first two times through; 7.81 FIP, 5.41 xFIP afterwards
While Anderson has been worse in 2022 in general, he went from being a guy not showing any real times through the order penalty to one with an extreme one. It’s not clear whether this will persist, or is just a weird half-season quirk at this point, but it has definitely hurt his numbers.
In the past, Anderson had one of his best career starts against the Cubs, throwing seven one-hit, shutout innings with an 8/1 K/BB ratio against them in April of 2021. It remains his best start ever by Game Score (v2), and is pretty close by FIP and xFIP.
Opposing Anderson will be a guy that has also struggled a lot in 2022: Kyle Hendricks. The relative soft-tosser took the league by storm for the first seven years of his career, going against the grain by managing contact and hitting spots rather than lighting up the radar gun, en route to 4 fWAR/200 over his first career 1,047 innings. But, pretty much everything collapsed for him last year (1.3 fWAR in 181 innings) and has only gotten worse since (0.2 fWAR in 63 2⁄3 innings so far in 2022). This season, Hendricks has attempted to increase his four-seamer usage in lieu of his sinker to try to reverse his 2021, but it hasn’t helped at all, because hitters are just obliterating his four-seamer (.467 xwOBA-against).
The Braves haven’t faced Hendricks this year, but obliterated him in 2021, scoring seven runs against him twice, with four homers in one game and three homers in the other. In fact, while Anderson’s best Game Score (v2) game has come against the Cubs, two of Hendricks four worst starts by that metric have come against the Braves. Hopefully the Braves can replicate that feat and deal Hendricks’ flagging career another blow, avoiding the sweep in the process.
Atlanta Braves @ Chicago Cubs
Sunday, June 19, 2022
2:20 pm EDT
Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 184