The Atlanta Braves return to Truist Park Tuesday where they will begin their final homestand of the regular season with a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs. The Braves took three of four in Washington over the weekend and became the first team in the majors to reach the 100 win mark. Atlanta’s magic number to clinch home field advantage throughout the postseason is down to three.
The news isn’t all good for the Braves though as they saw Max Fried and Charlie Morton hit the injured list over the last week. Fried pitched well in his last start, but again was bothered by a blister on his index finger. He was placed on the injured list on September 22 and will be eligible to be activated in time for the Division Series. Morton was placed on the injured list two days later with a sprained index finger. The prognosis for him isn’t as good as he has been ruled out of the Division Series completely. The Braves are hopeful that he would be able to return for the NLCS should they advance.
The Braves set a couple of milestones over the last week. Ronald Acuña Jr. strengthened his MVP credentials by becoming the fifth player to join the 40/40 club. He is the first player in major league history with 40 homers and 60 stolen bases and needs just two more steals to be 40/70. Matt Olson already broke Andruw Jones’ single season record with 53 home runs. He eclipsed Gary Sheffield’s Atlanta-era record for RBIs in a season with his 133rd. The Braves as a team have hit 299 home runs and need eight over their final six games to tie the 2019 Minnesota Twins for the most all time.
This is a critically important series for the Cubs who come to town fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the National League. Chicago is currently tied with the Diamondbacks for the second wild card spot and are just 1.0 game ahead of the Miami Marlins. Chicago has won three-straight, but are just 4-6 over their last 10 contests. They took two of three from the Braves at Wrigley Field back in August.
This series will also mark the return of shortstop Dansby Swanson to Atlanta for the first time since signing a seven-year, $177 million contract this past offseason. Swanson expressed an interest to stay in Atlanta, but the Braves reportedly never moved off their $100 million offer. Swanson is hitting .250/.330/.427 with 22 home runs and a 106 wRC+ in 142 games for the Cubs this season. He currently leads Chicago with 4.9 fWAR.
Tuesday, September 26, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Justin Steele (29 GS, 168.0 IP, 24.5 K%, 5.0 BB%, 49.1 GB%, 3.00 ERA, 2.99 FIP)
The Braves will get a second look at lefty Justin Steele in Tuesday’s opener. Steele faced Atlanta back at Wrigley on August 6 and allowed eight hits and three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked four in that matchup. Steele was among the group of NL pitchers vying for the Cy Young Award, but comes in struggling having allowed 12 earned runs over his last two starts combined (9 innings). He lasted just three innings in his last outing against Pittsburgh and allowed eight hits and six runs.
Bryce Elder (30 GS, 171.0 IP, 17.7 K%, 8.3 BB%, 50.3 GB%, 3.63 ERA, 4.41 FIP)
Bryce Elder will get the start for the Braves in Tuesday’s opener and will also be looking to bounce back from a rough outing. Elder struggled from the outset in his last start against the Phillies where he allowed four runs and walked five in just 3 2/3 innings. He didn’t strikeout a batter and allowed a pair of homers to Nick Castellanos. With Morton’s injury, Elder is their likely starter for Game 3 of the Division Series and getting him back on track becomes that much more important.
Wednesday, September 27, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Jameson Taillon (28 GS, 144.1 IP, 21.8 K%, 6.3 BB%, 37.8 GB%, 5.05 ERA, 4.66 FIP)
Right-hander Jameson Taillon will get the call for the Cubs on Wednesday. Taillon has made 28 starts this season and it has largely been a struggle with a 5.05 ERA and a 4.66 FIP. He has pitched better of late though and has allowed just three earned runs combined over his last three starts (17 innings). Taillon did face the Braves during the series at Wrigley back in August.
The Braves haven’t announced their starter for Wednesday or Thursday’s game and it is unclear what direction they might go. Darius Vines was recalled to take Max Fried’s spot on the active roster and tossed 3 1/3 innings of relief in Washington on September 22. He would be on four days rest and capable of making Wednesday’s start.
Thursday, September 28, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Marcus Stroman (26 G, 24 GS, 134.2 IP, 20.7 K%, 9.2 BB%, 57.4 GB%, 3.88 ERA, 3.52 FIP)
After making three relief appearances, Marcus Stroman will return to the Cubs rotation on Thursday. Stroman missed all of August with a fracture in his right rib cage. He allowed three earned runs combined across six innings out of the bullpen. He threw 64 pitches in his last appearance so he may only be good for around 80 in Thursday’s start.
A bullpen game would appear to be a possibility for the Braves on Thursday. Michael Tonkin, Jackson Stephens or Jesse Chavez could serve as bulk options. AJ Smith-Shawver pitched two innings and threw 42 pitches last Friday at Gwinnett and would be fully rested if the Braves wanted to make a roster move. Smith-Shawver still isn’t fully stretched out after returning from a minor shoulder injury.