After a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh and a well-deserved off day on Thursday, the Atlanta Braves will continue their road trip with a three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. This will be the second meeting between the two clubs as Atlanta took three of four from the Cardinals back in July at Truist Park.
The Braves’ sweep in Pittsburgh put them at a season-best 30 games over .500 with a 78-38 record. They entered Thursday’s off day just 1.5 games behind the New York Mets for the division lead in the NL East. Atlanta has won three straight and eight of 10 overall and are 36-24 in games away from Truist Park this season.
Atlanta’s young duo of Michael Harris and Vaughn Grissom have helped spark the team to a 16-7 record in August. Harris is hitting .303/.369/.566 with four home runs and a 156 wRC+ for the month. Grissom has played in just 15 games since making his major league debut after an injury to Orlando Arcia and has been outstanding, hitting .382/.424/.600 with three homers and a 184 wRC+ in his first 59 plate appearances.
The Cardinals were scheduled to wrap up a five-game, four-day series against the Cubs Thursday. They have a 5.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central race with a 71-53 record. After going 11-13 in July, St. Louis is peaking at the right time with a 17-5 mark in August.
When the Braves beat the Cardinals in that early July series, the team returned home with a 45-40 record and a 2.5-game deficit in the Central. The Cardinals continued to scuffle, but then reeled off seven straight wins, including a sweep of the Yankees, in early August, to take control of the division lead. They then won eight straight games in mid-August to expand their lead from 0.5 to 5.5 games. Yet, despite the Braves leading them by six games in the standings, the Cardinals have a large lead atop their division, and the Braves do not.
Because the Cardinals have been so inconsistent, it’s hard to look at their season stats and draw too many conclusions. On the season, they have the league’s third-best position player unit, with top-four marks in both wRC+ and defensive value. The pitching’s been more of a struggle (16th in rotation fWAR, 19th in bullpen fWAR), but they’ve really taken off because the rotation’s pitched like a top-five unit in August. Also, they have an absurd 148 team wRC+ in August — no one else is even close.
Paul Goldschmidt has put together an outstanding season for St. Louis and might be the odds on favorite to win the MVP award for the National League. Goldschmidt leads the majors with a .335 average, is second in the NL in home runs (31) and RBI (100). He is tied with teammate Nolan Arenado for the NL lead with 6.5 fWAR entering play Thursday. Among the 250 players with the most PAs in MLB, Goldschmidt has the highest wOBA... but only the 17th-highest xwOBA. No player is outhitting his xwOBA as much as Goldschmidt is, and it’s not even close — Goldschmidt’s .070 gap is 40 percent bigger than Arenado’s .050 gap.
In addition to Goldschmidt and Arenado, the Cardinals have a bunch of other key contributors. Tommy Edman has hit okay but provided immense defensive value. Brendan Donovan is the opposite, with a 134 wRC+ (and of course, xwOBA overperformance) driven largely just by walks and singles, but without much defensive value. Lars Nootbar has also hit very well since becoming a regular about a month ago, with a 187 wRC+ over his last 109 PAs. Dylan Carlson has shifted to center field given the trade of Harrison Bader and has done a little bit of everything in a solid season to date.
As mentioned, the pitching has been largely okay until going on a tear in August. Ryan Helsley is behind only Edwin Diaz in relief fWAR. The Cardinals struggled a lot earlier this season with a combustible relief corps, but all of their oft-imploding arms, short of Genesis Cabrera, have been removed from the roster one way or another at this point.
This weekend’s series will be featured prominently from a national standpoint. Friday’s opener will be broadcast by Bally Sports Southeast, but Saturday’s game will be on FOX while Sunday’s series finale will be carried by ESPN.
Friday, August 26, 8:15 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network)
Spencer Strider (26 G, 15 GS, 100.2 IP, 37.3 K%, 9.1 BB%, 2.95 ERA, 2.06 FIP)
While Harris and Grissom have gotten a lot of the buzz recently, the case can be made that Spencer Strider has been Atlanta’s most important rookie. Strider began the year in the bullpen, but moved into the rotation at the end of May just as the Braves took off. He’s put up 3.3 fWAR to go with a 37.3 percent strikeout rate and has a shot to finish with 200 strikeouts for the season. Strider turned in another dominant performance in his last outing allowing one run while striking out nine in six innings against the Astros. He faced the Cardinals back on July 7 and allowed two hits and struck out 12 over six scoreless innings.
Jose Quintana (24 GS, 122.2 IP, 20.3 K%, 7.8 BB%, 3.45 ERA, 3.29 FIP)
The Cardinals were busy at the Trade Deadline reinforcing their bleh rotation and the Braves will see both of their new acquisitions in this series. Jose Quintana came over from the Pirates along with Chris Stratton in exchange for Malcolm Nunez and Johan Oviedo. Quintana has pitched well since joining the Cardinals, allowing two earned runs or less in four straight starts. He did struggle his last time out against Arizona allowing seven hits, three walks and four runs (two earned) in just 2 2/3 innings. Quintana faced the Braves while he was with the Pirates back in June and allowed six hits and four runs over five innings.
Quintana has continued to either suppress homers or benefit from some great HR/FB fortune this season, something that hasn’t changed since the trade. Yet, the Braves hit three homers off of him — he’s had just eight homers allowed all season, coming in five games, and three of those were hit by the Braves in a single game. It’ll be something to watch for sure.
Saturday, August 27, 7:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Charlie Morton (24 GS, 135.1 IP, 29.1 K%, 8.3 BB%, 3.99 ERA, 3.78 FIP)
The best pitching matchup of the series will take place on Saturday, when Charlie Morton matches up against Jordan Montgomery. After a slow start to the season, Morton has turned his season around and been a big part of the Braves’ surge since the start of June. Morton allowed five hits, two runs and struck out 11 in six innings in his last start against the Astros. He has allowed seven runs through four starts in August and has 38 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.
Jordan Montgomery (25 GS, 140.1 IP, 21.6 K%, 4.6 BB%, 3.08 ERA, 3.51 FIP)
In a surprising move, the Cardinals picked up Montgomery from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in exchange for outfielder Harrison Bader. That move has paid immediate dividends for St. Louis. Montgomery beat the Yankees in his Cardinals debut and has allowed a total of one earned run over his first four starts in a Cardinals uniform. He’s tallied 1.0 fWAR as a Cardinal already, after totaling just 1.3 across 21 starts in New York. He is coming off of his best start of the season where he tossed a one hitter and struck out nine against the Cubs.
Montgomery has faced the Braves twice in his career and came away victorious in both games. He somehow did so last August despite a 2/4 K/BB ratio, as the Braves were able to touch him for just a solo homer in five innings despite all the walks.
Sunday, August 28, 7:08 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Jake Odorizzi (16 GS, 79.2 IP, 18.3 K%, 6.9 BB%, 3.95 ERA, 4.20 FIP)
After struggling in his first three starts in an Atlanta uniform, Jake Odorizzi turned in a good performance last time out, allowing four hits and one run over six innings in a win over the Pirates. He will see much stiffer competition in Sunday’s series finale in St. Louis. The Braves were hoping that Odorizzi would be able to eat some innings for them when they acquired him from Houston in a trade at the Deadline. He allowed two earned runs in each of his first two starts but lasted only 4 2/3 and 4 innings respectively. He then got through five innings in a start against the Mets but was hit hard allowing eight hits and five runs. Odorizzi struck out seven against Pittsburgh which was one off his season high.
Adam Wainwright (25 GS, 156.1 IP, 19.7 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.11 ERA, 3.62 FIP)
Veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright will close the series out for the Cardinals. Wainwright has put together another solid season despite the fact that he’ll turn 41 later this month, and has been a significant part of St. Louis’ surge in August. Wainwright allowed five hits, an uncharacteristic four walks and two runs in his last start against the Cubs. He’s allowed a total of three earned runs over his last three starts combined (22 innings). Wainwright has made 20 career appearances (15 starts) against Atlanta and has a 3.46 ERA in 101 1/3 innings.