After completing a 7-6 comeback win thanks to a game-winning (game-losing?) drop of Sean Murphy’s fly ball in the outfield on Tuesday night, the Braves will be looking to exceed their 2022 win total of 101 behind Darius Vines on Wednesday. The Braves hit two homers in the win, bringing their season total to 301. That means they are just six (not eight, sorry and thanks!) behind the 2019 Twins for that particular record. With the Dodgers splitting a doubleheader in Colorado, and the Orioles taking a 1-0 decision over the Nationals, the Braves still have a bit of work to do to secure MLB’s best record — though it’s hard to blame them for taking their collective foot off the pedal in recent days as they smooth out their pitching plans ahead of the postseason.
Part of that smoothing has been Darius Vines, who will make his second career start, and fifth career major league appearance, against the Cubs tonight. Vines’ numbers in those 14 1⁄3 innings aren’t much to write home about at this point: a 99 ERA-, 96 FIP-, and an ominous 127 xFIP-. What Vines has done well so far is manage contact, to the tune of a 3.19 xERA, but unfortunately that’s nowhere as useful for forward-looking analysis, especially in small samples, as xFIP.
Vines’ big league debut came in his one and only start so far, and it was a decent preview of what he’s done since, even though it happened at Coors Field. In that outing, he threw six innings with a 5/1 K/BB ratio, but a boatload of fly balls. Since then, he’s pitched three long relief outings totaling 8 1⁄3 innings with a 4/4 K/BB ratio. Not getting the ball on the ground nor striking a lot of guys out is a pretty scary state of affairs, but at least the results have been decent so far. Still, the Cubs have a passable offense, so this will be Vines’ toughest test yet.
With that said, there’s a bit more to Vines than just a guaranteed warm pitching body. Though he doesn’t throw hard, his three secondaries all have useful shape, with downward tilt that seems like it could be effective. The four-seamer, though, really functions like a sinker, and doesn’t play off anything else; however, it’s the sole pitch he’s commanded consistently thus far. Given what he’s shown so far, Vines’ gameplan against big league hitters seems to be to hope that he doesn’t get damaged on the four-seamer early while getting ahead, and then putting guys away via whiffs or weak flies on the cutter, changeup, or slider. That doesn’t seem unworkable, but he needs to be way more consistent with showing the secondaries for non-meaty strikes for it to succeed long-term, because right now, hitters can just take everything that isn’t a four-seamer and will likely earn a walk before striking out.
The Cubs’ loss last night sealed what was mostly a foregone conclusion in them failing to win the NL Central, but they still hold a half-game lead over the Marlins for the third Wild Card spot, and trail the Diamondbacks by a game for the second spot. They’ll try to get back on the winning horse behind Jameson Taillon, who’s had a fairly miserable 2023 after signing a hefty $68 million, four-year deal in the offseason. Taillon’s line is 117/107/101, giving him 1.4 fWAR in 144 1⁄3 innings of work. That’s average-ish for a starter and perhaps justifies his salary, but probably isn’t what the Cubs were looking for when they signed him.
Taillon’s been much better lately — 91/102/92 since the All-Star Break as opposed to 142/113/110 before it — but the issue for him is that he seems to blow up one way or another in most starts. Even since the All-Star Break, he has six of 13 starts with an FIP above 4.50, and five with an xFIP above 4.50... but only three of those overlap. When he shies away from the longball, like he did last time out against the Rockies, there tend to be walks (7/4 K/BB ratio in six scoreless). When he doesn’t walk guys, the longball comes more into play, like a zero-walk (but seven strikeout!), three-homer outing in Cincinnati to start his September. Part of this is probably related to his arsenal: his four-seamer and cutter have been extremely crushed, seemingly all year, but the other pitches in his bag of tricks have really stifled hitters. Taillon’s cutter is strange — it is relatively soft but tends to lack the drop you’d expect from that sort of pitch, which might be why it’s gotten hit so hard.
Atlanta Braves vs. Chicago Cubs
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
7:20 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bankruptcy Sports South
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 180