Well, that did not go as hoped. It probably went as many expected, but certainly not well at all. Atlanta was swept by the Nationals. The Braves scored two runs in three games. This set of losses to the division leader comes right on the heels of a set of victories against the Mets. The Braves now take their traveling circus of inconsistency and nonsense on the road to Pittsburgh.
The Pirates are 40-31 on the year. That’s nine games above .500 and still only good enough for second in the NL Central. They are seven games behind the Cardinals. Compare that to the NL East where the second place Mets are sitting on a 37-37 record and are just 3.5 games behind. Atlanta’s third place record and occasional streaks are indicative of a team that could put it all together at any moment and make a run at the playoffs. But the cold reality–particularly for this series–is that the competition the Braves and Pirates face occupy wholly different echelons of the game. In other words, the NL East is poop and any team that can’t muster a .500 record in this division just might be poop too. The Pirates, on the other hand, are certainly a talented team and a likely wild card entry.
That being said, the Pirates were also swept by the Nationals just a few days ago. Not long before that they lost a series in Atlanta, 2-1. Could there be hope that the Bravos will exit this series to once again face the Nationals as winners next week?
Not in the first game, that’s for sure. Freddie Freeman will still be on the DL and the same offense that mustered only two runs and little more than singles and base-running gaffes will remain in place. Said offense will be facing Francisco Liriano and his 2.92 FIP. As should be expected of the arcane stat by now, Liriano’s 4-5 record betrays what has been another solid season so far for the lefty. His sinker, slider, change up repertoire is almost certain to induce a high level of futility from the Braves weak contact-oriented lineup. Williams Perez will be on the mound for Atlanta in game one. That’s really all there is to say there.
Game two bodes only slightly better for the visiting Braves. Well, maybe not better, but at least it’s less certainly a loss. Charlie Morton will start for the Pirates. This will be Morton’s 7th start on the year after coming back from a hip injury in May. Folks in the press booths got excited as Morton started off with a flashy low ERA and rattled off 5 straight victories, including one ridiculous game against Atlanta. But all of that should be taken with a grain of salt as Morton’s FIP is 4.10 on the year so far. In his last start, he made it just 43 pitches and two outs before being taken out of the game against the Nationals. Morton gave up nine earned runs on eight hits in that appearance. Morton has been blessed with 4.6 support runs per game as well. It seems he may have been getting by on luck early on and the Nationals showed that luck can run out in a big way. The Braves will not hang nine on Morton. An offense featuring Bryce Harper should never be compared to one like the Braves have pieced together. But there is at least room to hope that Atlanta will be able to give Julio Teheran a couple of runs of support. The question will be which Julio shows up. The unanswerable, painful, awful question comes to us every five days with no respite. If the Braves get Julio Bueno, they have a good chance. If Julio Mal, it will be up to the bullpen. And while that group of misfits has not been bad as of late, all are aware of how spectacularly capable the Braves bullpen is of implosion at any moment.
Game three will feature Alex Wood and Jeff Locke. Locke has average stuff and has been very inconsistent this year. He is the pitching embodiment of the Atlanta Braves. An observation which admittedly holds no bearing on Atlanta’s chances to beat him. Wood has also been quite inconsistent but has a much higher ceiling when he is on than does Locke. Pittsburgh’s offense has been as unimpressive as Atlanta’s this year, if you can believe that. Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli have been hitting the ball well and getting on base at a high rate, but the rest of lineup has been fairly mediocre. Wood is capable of handling them. None of that will matter, of course, if the Braves cannot score some dang runs. The all contact approach has leveled out to a predictably insufficient rate of return. It has been poop. And Atlanta needs to climb out of the poop Shawshank-style very soon or the improbable playoff run so many are hoping for will be at its end (Spoiler: It is already at its end, but we just play along).