After a series win against the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves are headed to the West Coast to start a long, ten-game road trip that will see them visit San Francisco, Denver, and Los Angeles. The start of the trip features another weekend set against the Giants, from whom the Braves took two of three a few days ago.
A rough August has driven the Giants into a dogfight for the final Wild Card spot in what is a nastily-crowded playoff race. The Giants are half a game out of a playoff spot at present, tied with the division rival Diamondbacks. The thing is, there are six teams within a 4.5-game spread for all three Wild Card spots in the NL at present, so it’s just a mess. The Giants haven’t helped matters, as they’ve gone 5-12 over their last 17 games, turning what looked like a comfortable path to a playoff spot into a sticky situation. On August 3, the Giants sat at 61-49 and just 2.5 games behind the Dodgers, but now any division-related dreams are long gone and a playoff spot is far from a sure thing.
While the Giants have a decent group of position players, they lack the star player that can carry a lineup. The position player leaders in fWAR, Thairo Estrada and Patrick Bailey, are more known for their defense than offense, and Estrada’s xwOBA is under .300. Their two best hitters, meanwhile, have been Wilmer Flores and LaMonte Wade Jr., but both don’t really provide defensive value.
While the Giants have struggled, the Braves have been hot again, going 15-7 in August so far. The pitching has been exceptional this month, with seven shutouts already, including one last night against the Mets. They also shut out the Giants last Friday, the third of three in a row. It’s not like the Braves have really needed the dominant pitching, either, since they have the most position player fWAR in August, but as has been the case for much of the year, there’s just an embarrassment of riches rolling around this roster.
Friday, August 25, 10:15 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (25 GS, 146.1 IP, 38.2 K%, 7.7 BB%, 34.2 GB%, 3.57 ERA, 2.87 FIP)
After his blowup start in Pittsburgh, Spencer Strider has bounced back brilliantly, delivering 14 scoreless innings in his last two starts. His last start came against these very Giants, where he threw seven scoreless innings while striking out 10 and allowing one hit and one walk. After seven scoreless against the Mets where he did not have his best stuff, Strider had his “A” game against the Giants. He will look to use his overwhelming fastball-slider combo to once again stifle San Francisco. When it comes to getting strikeouts, Strider is the undisputed king, having 32 more strikeouts than any other pitcher in baseball, despite only ranking 21st in innings pitched. His fastball and slider both get exceptional whiff numbers, which puts hitters at his mercy. He has 100 strikeouts on the fastball and 111 strikeouts on his slider. The young right-hander has ten double-digit strikeout games, and eight more where he struck out nine batters.
Logan Webb (26 GS, 169 IP, 24.2 K%, 3.9 BB%, 60.7 GB%, 3.36 ERA, 3.27 FIP)
Logan Webb has had a stellar year, combining very good stats with elite volume, putting together a season that has him in Cy Young contention. (Interestingly, he actually leads baseball in pitching WARP, but isn’t that close to the top in fWAR.) In his start against the Braves last week, he ate six innings, but was not at his best, allowing a homer with a 5/0 K/BB ratio. Webb relies on getting ground balls and avoiding walks, with his 60.7 grounder rate and 3.9 walk rate both among the best in baseball.
Webb’s had a bit of a rough stretch of luck since the All-Star Break: he was at a 74 ERA-, 77 FIP-, and 67 xFIP- through it, and 93/82/unchanged 67 since.
Saturday, August 26, 4:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, FS1)
Max Fried (9 GS, 47.2 IP, 23.2 K%, 4.6 BB%, 61 GB%, 2.83 ERA, 3.10 FIP)
The Giants fared better against Max Fried compared to their hopeless performance against Strider. In his outing against the Giants last week, Fried went 5 2⁄3 innings, allowing three runs on nine hits. It was kind of a weird outing for him, as he allowed two homers for just the 13th multihomer game of his career, but still managed a 6/1 K/BB ratio.
Fried’s stats since returning from the Injured List are pretty much what you’d expect in aggregate (84/74/69), but those are heavily weighted by him dominating the Cubs, as the line changes to 116/96/86 in his last three starts. His contact management (.318 xwOBA-against) in those three starts hasn’t been up to his usual, essentially best-in-class standards, but as you can probably tell, he’s just been victimized by balls in play and his defense, with a .390 wOBA-against in the same span. He’ll be just fine, and it’s actually pretty impressive how he hasn’t missed much of a beat despite the long layoff.
The Giants starter is to be determined but it is likely that they will have a bullpen day, a tactic the Giants use a lot. Sean Manaea, Jakob Junis and Tristan Beck are guys who might see multiple innings in a bullpen game. The Braves saw a fair bit of Junis and Beck in Atlanta, and Manaea’s pitched great since moving to a bulk role.
Sunday, August 27, 7:10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Braves starter for Sunday’s game is to be determined. They have a ton of options that have all already drawn starts this year, but it seems like Collin McHugh or Michael Tonkin will probably have a big role in the game as well.
Kyle Harrison (1 GS, 3.1 IP, 31.3 K%, 6.3 BB%, 11.1 GB%, 5.40 ERA, 5.97 FIP)
While it has yet to be announced, Sunday is rookie Kyle Harrison’s spot in the rotation. Harrison is the number one prospect in the Giants organization and has put up obscene strikeout numbers in his minor league career. In 279 1⁄3 minor league innings, Harrison has 452 strikeouts, or 14.6 K/9. He gets those numbers with an elite fastball-slider combo. His mid-90s fastball gets on hitters quickly due to his low arm slot and his low 80s sweeping slider is also a massive whiff generator. He had trouble with control this year in Triple-A, walking 6.6 batters per nine innings, so a patient approach could cause problems for the young pitcher. In his big league debut, Harrison went 3.1 innings against the Phillies, allowing two earned runs while allowing five hits and generating five strikeouts to one walk. He somehow got just one grounder to eight balls in the air in that game, which might make him a fine fit for his home ballpark but is a really dangerous way to try and survive.