Under the new schedule style enacted by MLB for the 2023 season, each team will play every other team in at least one series. It has taken until mid-August, but on Friday night, the Braves will finally wrap up their tour against the league, as the San Francisco Giants are the only team they haven’t yet faced this season. (Interestingly, the Braves wrapped up the AL portion of their schedule by sweeping the Yankees — the remaining six weeks of the season all feature NL opponents.)
While the Braves were busy playing every other team in MLB, the Giants are in the midst of an interesting, nearly whiplash-inducing season. They started super-slowly (11-16), then went on a 35-20 run, but have gone just 18-21 since. They looked like a fringy contender playing poorly up until around mid-June, when a ten-game winning streak shoved them plainly into the playoff picture; a seven-game winning streak that wrapped around the All-Star Break pushed them way up in the pecking order. However, it’s been a struggle since. Right after winning seven in a row, they lost six in a row. That was followed by a 7-2 stretch, only for the Giants to then six of seven, and then split the next four games. As a result, they haven’t won a series since their first in August, and at 64-57, they hold a 1.5-game lead over a trio of teams tied for the final NL Wild Card spot.
On the season, the Giants have combined weak offense (93 team wRC+) with good defense (top five in MLB) for an average position player corps; their average-y pitching staff combines an okay rotation with one of the league’s best relief corps — though their bullpen value is somewhat skewed by the fact that they’ve leaned hard into openers. Sean Manaea, in particular, has been close to dominant since moving to a bulk role (if you ignore the HR/FB fortune in his favor during that span) in mid-May, though the Braves likely won’t see him in this series. Given their record vis-a-vis their production, the Giants are probably fairly lucky to be above .500 and in possession of a playoff spot, but someone’s gotta be lucky in the morass of third-tier contenders, so why not them?
For the opener in Atlanta, the Giants will tab Alex Cobb with the start. Cobb is having a nice, if fairly unlucky considering his home ballpark year, with an 85 ERA-, 92 FIP-, and a 79 xFIP-. Probably the most interesting thing about his line, as well as his pitching style as a whole, is that Cobb’s contact quality allowed is always worse than what you’d expect given his peripherals — because he mostly pitches in the zone trying to get groundball contact, his K/BB looks good because of few BBs, but he gets hit relatively hard. This year, some of that extra oomph on contact has manifested itself in an uptick in homers, which has hurt his value a bit; unsurprisingly, most of that damage has come on the road, given the friendly dimensions of his home ballpark.
As they go for their fourth win in a row, the Braves will give the start to Spencer Strider, who is fifth in MLB in pitching fWAR with 3.9, while rocking a 84/69/66 line. Strider’s been upended by bad defense a few times, and has a quirky 20 percent HR/FB rate the third time through, which should come back down with more exposure, but has been annoying to experience thus far, as it’s turned good outings into disappointing ones here and there.
Cobb has only made three career starts against the Braves, but each one has gone swimmingly for him. All the way back in 2012, he beat them with seven innings of two-run ball and a 6/2 K/BB ratio. Fast-forward six years and he was the starter in a 10-7 Baltimore win that turned wild late, but featured seven innings of one-run ball with a 6/2 K/BB ratio from Cobb. And, finally, last September, he threw seven shutout innings with a 7/0 K/BB ratio against the Braves. If this high-powered offense gets to him tonight, it’ll be the first time ever that he’s struggled against the Braves.
Strider made two starts against the Giants last year. They upended him a bit in Atlanta for one of his worst starts of the season last year, but he threw five innings with a 9/1 K/BB ratio against them in San Francisco a few months later. The Giants are relatively whiff-prone and have been relatively punchless, especially over the last month or so, where they have MLB’s worst offense... so if the defense shows up behind Strider, he could have another dominant outing.
Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants
Friday, August 18, 2023
7:20 pm EDT
TV: Bankruptcy and we’re also suing our corporate parent for fraudulent transfers Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 179