Riding a five-game winning streak, the Atlanta Braves will head out for an eight-game road trip that will begin Tuesday with a two-game stop in Oakland against the Athletics. Atlanta’s recent surge has them just one game back in the NL East standings behind the New York Mets. Since starting the season 23-27, the Braves have gone 61-24. They are 37-26 on the road this season and swept a two-game series against Oakland at home back in June.
Rookie outfielder Michael Harris II has been red-hot for Atlanta and is currently riding a 12-game hitting streak. He is hitting .340/.392/.589 with 14 doubles and seven home runs in the “second half,” i.e., since the All-Star Break. Austin Riley has homered in four of his last five games and had a seven-game hitting streak snapped Sunday against the Marlins.
The series will also mark the return of Matt Olson to Oakland for the first time since the offseason trade that sent him to Atlanta. Olson spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the Athletics. The Braves will also see two of the prospects that they sent away to get Olson in this series. Shea Langeliers made his major league debut in mid-August and is hitting .221/.229/.456 with three home runs in 17 games. Cristian Pache also returned to the major league roster in late August, but is hitting just .160/.214/.233 in 222 plate appearances this season.
Overall, the Athletics do not pose much of a threat on paper. They haven’t won a series since mid-August and are 11-20 in their last 31 games. They don’t hit well (85 wRC+, third-worst in MLB) nor pitch well (second-worst team pitching fWAR). Really their only useful roster function is above-average defense.
Sean Murphy has been awesome this season on both sides of the ball, compiling 4.4 fWAR while notably underhitting his xwOBA. That’s really about all there is to say for Oakland’s position player corps — for example, Elvis Andrus is second on their team in xwOBA and was released anyway. A lot of the rest of the roster is composed of a mishmash of guys who can hit but not field, or field but not hit — they’ve used 29 different position players this year, and only 11 have 0.1 fWAR or more.
The pitching end has been similarly grim. Frankie Montas was great but got dealt. Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn have been okay. Zach Jackson and A.J. Puk have had nice relief seasons, but Jackson is riding a massive FIP-xFIP gap to success so far. The Athletics have given a ton of playing time to a bunch of pitchers that have seriously struggled — 30 percent of the team’s innings have been thrown by sub-replacement level pitchers so far.
Tuesday, September 6, 9:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Kyle Wright (25 GS, 154.2 IP, 24.0 K%, 6.9 BB%, 2.85 ERA, 3.50 FIP)
Kyle Wright will get the start for Atlanta on Tuesday night to begin the road trip. Wright has pitched well of late and hasn’t allowed a run in two straight starts. He blanked the Rockies for seven innings while allowing five hits and two walks to go along with six strikeouts. He’s allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his last eight outings, including each of his last four, where he’s been dominant. Wright faced Oakland in Atlanta back on June 7 and allowed five hits, two runs and struck out seven in eight innings.
Cole Irvin (24 GS, 147.2 IP, 17.6 K%, 4.6 BB%, 3.35 ERA, 3.93 FIP)
Lefty Cole Irvin will get the start for the Athletics in the series opener. Irvin matched up against Wright back on June 7 and allowed seven hits and two runs, both home runs by Acuña Jr., in 5 1/3 innings. Irvin is coming off of a tough outing where he allowed nine hits and five runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Nationals. While Irvin seems like your generic soft-tossing innings-eater, his recent results have been whiplash-inducing. He’s been hammered in three of his last four outings, but the other was an amazing 11-strikeout, zero-walk, seven-shutout-inning performance against the Marlins. He’s had other good starts against teams like the Angels and Rangers since the All-Star Break, but tends to get hit hard by offenses like the Astros, and hopefully, the Braves.
If you’re watching, take a gander at Irvin’s slow curve, which has one of the least consistent shapes and velocities of any pitch you’ll see this season. That doesn’t help it work particularly well, it’s just a weird thing to see in a baseball game.
Wednesday, September 7, 3:37 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Spencer Strider (28 G, 17 GS, 114.2 IP, 38.1 K%, 8.3 BB%, 2.67 ERA, 1.84 FIP)
Spencer Strider will get the start in Wednesday’s series finale. Strider is coming off of (in)arguably his best start as a professional, where he broke John Smoltz’s Atlanta record for strikeouts in a game with 16 in a two-hit, eight inning performance against the Rockies. Strider has been light- out of late and has currently quieted concerns that he might wear down as the season enters its final month. He has allowed a total of three runs in his last four starts (25 innings) and has 36 strikeouts and seven walks during that span.
Ken Waldichuk (1 GS, 4.2 IP, 26.1 K%, 17.4 BB%, 1.93 ERA, 3.12 FIP)
Young left-hander Ken Waldichuk will get the start for Oakland in the finale. The Athletics acquired Waldichuk at the deadline from the Yankees in the Frankie Montas trade. He allowed five hits and one run, but also walked four in a 4 2/3 innings in his debut against the Nationals on September 1. Like many young call-ups, Waldichuk has good “stuff” and movement but really suspect command.