The MLB schedule is winding down, with teams closing in on the season’s final fifth. With a plethora of divisional games in September, the Braves’ slate against contenders is also close to an end. This weekend, the Braves will play in St. Louis. After that, their only faceoffs against contenders will be a trip to Seattle, a couple of series with the Phillies, and a showdown at home with the Mets in the season’s penultimate series. But, while it’s fun to look ahead, the Braves can’t skip past this impending scuffle with the Cardinals, who lead their division by 5.5 games (despite a worse record than what the Braves have managed) and have been killing it in August.
After smashing the Cubs to win a five-game set on Thursday afternoon, the Cardinals find themselves with an 18-5 record in August, a month in which they’ve included most of a seven-game win streak, as well as an eight-win spree. Their team wRC+ in August is up to 151; nearly a third (9.0) of their total position player fWAR (27.9) has been compiled in the last 25 days. The deadly duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have each compiled nearly 2 fWAR in August with two series still to play; Lars Nootbar has 1.4 in August, and even Albert Pujols has somehow grabbed 1.1 in under 50 PAs.
Tonight’s series opener, then, should be a good test for Spencer Strider. The rookie right-hander has put together an amazing season, and already has 3.3 fWAR despite spending the first third or so of the season in the bullpen. His 2.6 fWAR as a starter is sixth-highest since May 30, the day he made his first start. The only starter with a higher strikeout rate than Strider is Jacob deGrom; there are only seven relievers with a higher strikeout rate in total. Yet, the Cardinals are another team that doesn’t strike out much — they have the fifth-lowest strikeout rate on the season, and the third-lowest in August.
Strider has shown, to some extent, that opposing team strikeout rates aren’t a huge driver of whether or not he succeeds in a given game. He still did great in his last outing, against the minimal-strikeout Astros (9/2 K/BB ratio, a solo homer allowed). Ball-in-play stuff aside, he’s fared well against the Mets (17/6 K/BB ratio, no homers allowed in three starts), too. If you were going to point to a low-strikeout team causing problems for him, it could be the Nationals (18/7 K/BB ratio, two homers allowed, across a great start, a bad start, and a bad long relief appearance)... but the Cardinals aren’t the Nationals. In fact, if you were so inclined you could just look at Strider’s previous outing against the Cardinals, where he struck out 12 and walked two in six scoreless innings, so the team strikeout rate thing is probably not a concern. The fact that the Cardinals have been murdering baseballs as a team, though... we’ll just have to see what happens.
A big part of the Cardinals’ success in August has been their ability to pair a suddenly-resurgent rotation with their offensive prowess. Trade Deadline acquisition Jose Quintana hasn’t been a big part of that, as he’s been just okay in four starts since coming over from Pittsburgh: 82 ERA-, 91 FIP-, 103 xFIP- (compared to 85/83/96 on the season). Quintana is nominally on a run where he has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six straight starts, but those six games included a 4/2 K/BB ratio, a 3/2 K/BB ratio, and his most recent start, where he had an 0/3 K/BB ratio and allowed four total runs while not making it out of the third.
The Braves socked Quintana in Pittsburgh, tagging him for three homers (of the eight total he’s allowed all season) — by FIP it was by far his worst start of the year. So far, the Cardinals’ big change for Quintana has been swapping a lot of changeup usage for sinker usage, which bodes well for a Braves team that is third in MLB in hitting sinkers, and second against lefty sinkers (compared to seventh against changeups, and 20th against lefty changeups).
Atlanta Braves @ St. Louis Cardinals
Friday, August 26, 2022
8:15 pm EDT
Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 89