After a soul-crushing walk-off loss Sunday, the Atlanta Braves will have to pick up the pieces quickly when they begin a three-game series Monday against the San Francisco Giants. Atlanta rallied from a 6-2 deficit in the ninth Sunday to take a 7-6 lead only to watch Kenley Jansen allow a pair of solo home runs in the home half of the ninth to send them to an 8-7 loss. Atlanta has dropped two straight since taking over sole possession of first place in the NL East and will enter Monday 1.5 games behind the New York Mets.
The Braves have to be at least mildly concerned about Jansen, who has now blown three of his past seven save opportunities. Jansen said that he was trying to correct a flaw in his windup after blowing a save against Miami on the last homestand, but came back and picked up a pair of saves Tuesday in Oakland and then again Friday in Seattle. However, he again couldn’t hold the lead again Sunday and allowed a homer for just the second time in his last 14 games. Atlanta has Raisel Iglesias who has plenty of closing experience with the Reds and the Angels, and A.J. Minter, who has put together a more-than-solid 2022 campaign as available options. At the least, a match-up based approach could be in order while Jansen finds his form, even if it seems like a bridge too far to just stop managing relievers in a “traditional” way altogether.
Though the Braves held their own against the Mariners, but for some spotty pitching usage and getting locked down by George Kirby and the Mariners’ best relief arms, the Giants don’t pose as much of a threat on paper. Expected to compete for a playoff spot after amassing an MLB-best 107 wins last year, the Giants looked like contenders for five weeks before starting to tread water in mid-May, and then completely collapsing in July and August. The Braves helped usher in their collapse by taking three of four in Atlanta, including two walk-off wins. The Giants left Atlanta 38-31 and didn’t win another series until weeks later, at which point they were just 45-42. They fell back to .500 on July 25 and haven’t been meaningfully above that mark since. Their playoff odds dwindled from over 50 percent on July 19 to three percent on August 5, a stretch that included the tail-end of a seven-game slide and then a separate four-game losing streak.
The Giants are 5-5 in September so far with a Sunday night game still to play, which has included a four-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak.
What’s really killed them has been their defense: they’re pretty much the worst defensive unit in MLB, which combines with average hitting to give them a below-average position player corps. The pitching’s been a top-ten squad, mostly due to a top-five rotation, but the bullpen’s been bad — and any struggles have been magnified by their inability to turn balls in play into outs. Their mix-and-match style of play means they don’t have any position players above 2.2 fWAR, though they do have eight players over 1.0, and another 11 between 0.0 and 1.0. On the pitching end, the trio of Carlos Rodon, Logan Webb, and Alex Cobb have been very good, and Camilo Doval has provided great relief, but there isn’t much else to speak of behind that, especially in the bullpen.
Monday, September 12, 9:45 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Spencer Strider (29 G, 18 GS, 120.2 IP, 38.1 K%, 8.5 BB%, 2.69 ERA, 1.83 FIP)
Rookie right-hander Spencer Strider will get the start for Atlanta in Monday’s series opener. Strider allowed two first inning runs in his last start in Oakland but then settled in nicely and was able to log six innings to go along with nine strikeouts. Those nine strikeouts brought his season total to 183 in just 120 2/3 innings. He is vying to become just the fourth Braves pitcher (Charlie Morton 2021, Mike Foltynewicz 2018, Javier Vasquez 2009) since 2009 to have 200 strikeouts in a season. It will be interesting to see how this game goes, because one of Strider’s few struggle bug starts came against the Giants at home — he showed diminished velocity and got victimized by both a patient approach and some unexpected longballs.
Alex Cobb (23 GS, 122.1 IP, 24.4 K%, 7.2 BB%, 3.68 ERA, 3.00 FIP)
Right-hander Alex Cobb will start opposite of Strider in the opener. Cobb has put together a solid season despite a couple of trips to the Injured List. He allowed seven hits, three walks and three runs in just 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Dodgers. That snapped a two-start, 12 inning stretch where he had not yielded a run. Cobb has been victimized by a low strand rate (there’s that bad defense again) this year, and could be a tough matchup.
Tuesday, September 13, 9:45 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Kyle Wright (26 GS, 158.2 IP, 23.8 K%, 7.1 BB%, 3.23 ERA, 3.69 FIP)
Kyle Wright will get the call on Tuesday and will be looking to bounce back from his worst start of the season. Wright was unable to get comfortable from the start, perhaps due to grip issues, and allowed five hits, three walks and a season-high eight runs in just four innings last time out against Oakland. That was the first time in four starts that he had allowed as many as two runs in an outing. He hadn’t issued three walks in a start since walking three back on June 29 in Philadelphia.
Jakob Junis (19 G, 15 GS, 92.2 IP, 20.9 K%, 5.2 BB%, 3.98 ERA, 3.82 FIP)
Righty Jakob Junis will get the start in Tuesday’s matchup. Junis allowed three hits and two runs over six innings in his last start in Milwaukee. That snapped a two-start stretch where he had failed to make it out of the fifth inning. Tuesday will be Junis’ first career appearance against Atlanta. Junis has pitched okay on the year all-in-all, but isn’t anywhere near as imposing as Carlos Rodon, who will follow him, or even Alex Cobb.
Wednesday, September 14, 3:45 p.m. ET ( Bally Sports South)
Charlie Morton (27 GS, 152.1 IP, 28.3 K%, 8.5 BB%, 4.08 ERA, 4.16 FIP)
Charlie Morton will get the start for the Braves in Wednesday’s series finale. Morton’s wild ride of a season continued Friday in Seattle where he allowed six hits, three of which were homers, and four runs in 6 1/3 innings. Since the start of August, Morton has allowed 0, 5, 0, 2, 4, 1 and 4 runs in his last seven starts. The home run ball has been an issue of late as he has allowed six in his last three starts combined. Morton faced the Giants back on June 22 and allowed three hits, two runs and struck out 11 in seven innings.
Carlos Rodon (28 GS, 162.2 IP, 32.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 2.93 ERA, 2.33 FIP)
Carlos Rodon will make his 29th start of the season for the Giants in the finale. Rodon has turned in an exceptional season for San Francisco and is on the shortlist for Cy Young Award candidates, and currently leads all of baseball in pitching fWAR. He allowed three hits, two runs and struck out 11 in 5 1/3 innings in his last start against the Cubs. He has posted at least 10 strikeouts in four of his last five outings. He matched up against Morton in Atlanta back on June 22 and allowed three hits, one run and struck out 10 in seven innings of work.