Editor’s Note: I wrote this. It was glorious. Then the internet crapped out and it deleted itself. What you are getting is a mixture of the best recollections and me mailing it in. I’m not sorry.)
The last time the Braves entered a series against the Nationals the mood was markedly different. A week ago, Atlanta had just come off of a sweep of the Mets and their trio of impressive young power arms, reaching .500. Those insane enough to believe in a concept as depressing as hope saw the Braves two games out of first place, still in contention, and believed. Since then, things have tragically gone downhill. They lost five of six, falling four games under .500. Meanwhile, only a lol-worthy double header lineup on Sunday could stop the Nationals’ eight game winning streak.
That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to watch this team. The young guys have been an absolute joy to behold. Mike Foltynewicz brought a big fastball to the table, while Williams Perez confounded major league hitters with…well. Something. Shelby Miller and his 1.94 ERA have been the rock of the Braves rotation, and he gets the nod in game one. Matt Wisler may only have two strikeouts through his two starts, but his stuff has looked good. He needs a little more time to develop, but it’s not hard to imagine him being able to survive on stuff alone as he continues to learn at the big league level. Control (the downfall of Foltynewicz) will be his biggest asset as he tries to make strides. He posted BB rates around 5-6% in the minors, and thus far has yet to allow a base runner via four balls (he did drill Kevin Plawecki in his first major league start, though I choose to believe he did it for funsies). He gets the ball in game two, in which he’ll square off with Doug Fister. That game should feature lots of ‘tact, as both pitchers are low-K, low-BB guys that let their defense do the work for them. Former Yankees top ‘spect Manny Banuelos gets the call in game three. After two years of injuries and ineffectiveness, you could say his 2015 season (2.29 ERA) has been a rousing success, especially lately.
In my opinion, though, the best reason to watch this team has been the combo up the middle. Andrelton Simmons continues to be a damn wizard, with 11 DRS in 2015. But it’s no secret that one of my favorite players this year has been his partner at the keystone, Jace Peterson. He’s been solid with the glove as well, with 3 DRS, but it’s been his bat that has intrigued me. Friend of The Store and writer for The Good Phight, Trev, had some sharp words about my new favorite toy earlier:
@E11even745 do you guys remember when trading for jace Peterson was a “canny” and “smart” move? Well bye
— Doujinshi Marxist (@Hegelbon) June 29, 2015
Since I wrote about some of the mechanical changes he’s made a couple of weeks ago, Peterson’s wRC+ has remained above 100, while his BB% continues to rise (10.5%) and his bat continues to become more of a power threat (.109 ISO). It’s culminated in an impressive June, in which Peterson slashed .260/.357/.427. A .167 ISO from a player getting his first run as a starter in the majors is gravy, especially when he’s getting on base and playing good defense. If he can work on getting better jumps and finding some of the success he had in the minors, where he stole 158 bags in four years at a 79% clip, he’ll be a real weapon out of the lead off spot. So yes, Trev, I do think the move was canny and smart. I also think it was #cool and #good. Unlike Ryan Howard’s contract. I also think your trolling is just “ok.”
On the Washington side, the offense around Real Life Super Star Bryce Harper has started to wake up, despite starting things called “Clint Robinson” and “Tyler Moore” on a regular basis. Denard Span continues to be a very good lead off man, as his .360 OBP has led to him hitting 23% better than league average, while Yunel Escobar’s .363 BABiP has also led to a 123 wRC+. The resurgence of Danny Espinosa has helped as well, though it has been more than offset by the descent of Ian Desmond into a Dan Uggla-like spiral. Over the last four years, Desmond’s K% has spiked from a normal 20.7% to the 27-28% we see now, while his ISO has fallen by .080 points over that time. Unlike Uggla, Desmond doesn’t have a walk rate that can support his hitting if the power isn’t there, and like Uggla, Desmond has been playing atrocious defense, to boot.
Ultimately, the Braves may walk away from this series much as they did the last. Wisler and Banuelos are young and talented, but the Nationals offense is deep, and the Braves bullpen is thin, should either of them encounter the trials and tribulations young pitchers are prone to creating for themselves. Shelby Miller facing off against an equally good Jordan Zimmermann is likely the Braves’ best chance at stealing a win, regardless of what the sims try to tell me. So sit back, grab 1-80 beers, and enjoy watching the youth that will lead the Braves back to the top of the division develop.
Also, enjoy this infographic, in which we included Dan Uggla in lieu of Yunel Escobar to piss people off. Because Dan Uggla.