The Braves, fresh off a series loss to the Cardinals, head to Baltimore to take on the Orioles. We’re now going to get through the vitals as quickly as we can so we can talk about Kevin Gausman. Cool?
The Braves are bad, and having traded a third of their good every-day bats in Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, they are bound to get worse, which seems impossible, given their offense is 6th-worst in the league with an 87 wRC+ and have scored the 7th fewest runs despite being so damn *fun* to watch. Freddie Freeman returned over the weekend, which should help. Also, despite being 27, I’d like to see what Ryan Lavarnway could do with more work. Very small sample size caveat, but he’s played well in his time in Atlanta, and the former top-10 Red Sox prospect was never afforded consistent playing time in Boston due to a combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross. He’s walked and hit for power all throughout his career, and his receiving skills can’t possibly be worse than Christian Bethancourt’s, so he intrigues me.
After a very rough start, the bullpen has shaped up, though the starters have taken a step back with the debut of a bunch of young kids, general regression, and the slow death of Julio Teheran. All told, the Braves have moved out of the lower third in the league in FIP, though just barely, as they now own the 19th-best mark in the league at 3.97. The Braves send Alex Wood, Teheran, and Manny Banuelos to the hill against the Orioles, so the bullpen may have to do a bit of work after game one.
The Orioles are floating around .500 thanks to their offense and bullpen. Led by Manny Machado (146 wRC+), Adam Jones (125), and Chris Davis (122), Baltimore has put together the league’s 9th best offense and launched the 5th most dingers. This is despite terrible seasons from Matt Wieters and JJ Hardy, and losing Wieters are second baseman Jonathan Schoop for parts of the season to the DL.
The mediocrity in Baltimore is entirely centered around its starting pitching, where they’ve done a lot of weird, bizarre shit that I don’t understand. Bud Norris, who is undoubtedly bad, opened the year in the rotation and lasted until July, getting 11 starts despite a 5.44 FIP and 6+ ERA. In lieu of dropping Norris, they demoted him to a bullpen roll, where his 5.58 FIP and 6.75 ERA is somehow worse. The Orioles also demoted decent starter (4.26 FIP) and current ERA leader (2.88) Wei Yin Chen to their High-A Frederick Keys affiliate mid-season for “general soreness.” Guys are skipped in the rotation due to soreness all the time, but being demoted to A-ball and then pitching 3 innings through “soreness,” doesn’t seem…I don’t know…prudent.
All this is to say: FREE KEVIN GAUSMAN. Chen and the game two and three starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman, are the only three starters with FIP’s below 4.84, which is the mark that Miguel Gonzalez has pitched to through 106 innings of mediocrity this year. Meanwhile, Gausman was relegated to the bullpen at the beginning of the season to make a rotation spot for, and I can’t stress this enough, the VERY VERY BAD BUD NORRIS. Gausman then suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out until he appeared in Frederick in early June. There’s no way to know for sure how much bouncing between the rotation and the ‘pen is to blame for injuries, but historically those guys are more susceptible to injuries, and after The Gaus Man put up a 3.41 FIP in 113 MLB innings in 2014, this kind of gross mismanagement is inexcusable. Despite having great stuff, including a filthy splitter, a wipeout breaking ball, and mid-90’s to triple-digit fastballs, the organization doesn’t seem to know what they want to do with him, and his name has come up in numerous trade rumours over the last few weeks. But for now the Gaus is back, and we are very #blest to get to see him pitch game one of this series.
As an aside, the handling of pitchers in the Baltimore organization seems laughable. The Chen situation was weird, and obviously Gausman being yanked around has been tragic. It’s asinine and systemic, as the handling of Dylan Bundy, who was aggressively promoted before being sent to the MLB ‘pen and subsequently injured, has been questionable as well. The thing is regardless of what happens with Gausman, we’ll get to relive the horror with two more promising young righties in Hunter Harvey and Zach Davies. Furthermore, I was maybe a little too hard on Bud Norris. It’s no secret that Rick Peterson is anti-cutter, which, whatever. While they don’t outright ban the pitch for incoming veterans, it’s notable that several, including Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris, have cut back since donning an Orioles uni. PitchF/X occasionally has trouble separating cutters/sliders, but in the pool of pitches with similar spin deflection/velocity, both have cut back usage by 6-7% in exchange for more four-seamers and sinkers, which have lower whiff rates. It’s just another wrinkle in what’s a really weird, backwards organization for pitchers. On to the infographic: