On Opening Day Eve, just moments before the first pitch of the 2015 season, the Braves and Padres got together for their second trade in four months. Over the course of the winter and into the spring, San Diego loaded up for the present by acquiring Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton from the Braves. Heading east in those two deals were pieces that are expected to be cornerstones of the Braves’ future.
On June 8th, the two teams are separated by one game in the standings. Not quite what was expected from two teams who were heading in opposite directions as the season started.
The Braves continue to tread water, as they have for much of the season. The losses seem to come in bunches, with wins scattered here and there. The team has been just good enough to avoid completely falling out of contention and keep the jaded and delusional believing in The Braves Way. But the luck seems to be coming to a screeching halt. Since taking three out of four against the woeful Brewers, the team has gone 5-8 on a West Coast trip and the subsequent return home against Pittsburgh.
If you want to put a finger on why the team has struggles so mightily of late, you really need look no further than the bullpen. To say the Braves bullpen has been god-awful over the past two weeks would almost be paying them a compliment. Over the past fourteen days, the revolving door between Gwinnett and Atlanta has gotten blasted. While we all know it’s just a nice number to put on paper, the bullpen has allowed a grotesque 8.69 ERA over 29 innings in that time. If that’s not your bag, the 6.33 FIP isn’t any better, nor is the 4.78 xFIP. It’s early June and the Braves have already burned through 16 relievers. At this point, it’s only a matter of time before some of the prospects start getting the call and more of the garbage starts to pile up outside the clubhouse door.
One thing these teams do have in common is their offenses have started to click over the past week. While the Braves record has remained stagnant thanks to a faulty bullpen, their offense has exploded in the last couple games. And right behind them at the top are the Padres.
Even with Wil Myers still out of action, the lineup has managed to turn things around, scoring six or more runs in five of their last seven games. While Justin Upton and Derek Norris have been the anchor of the offense so far, the team just got Yonder Alonso back from the disabled list, and Matt Kemp and Will Middlebrooks have begun to show signs of life. Combine a healthy and clicking Padres lineup with a volatile Braves pitching staff, and this series could get very ugly very quick.
The good news for Atlanta heading into the four game set is their starting rotation remains a bright spot, albeit a flickering one. This week they will trot out Shelby Miller in the opener, Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez in the middle games, and Julio Teheran to wrap things up on Thursday. Miller has been a revelation for the Braves thus far, even if all signs point to regression and his past couple starts have shown as much. Foltynewicz has been exactly what we expected; Perez has been the opposite. And Teheran? Well, the less we say about him the better right now.
Across the field, the Padres will throw Ian Kennedy, James Shields, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner. Kennedy matches up as the Braves best bet, as he’s certainly been the weakest link in the San Diego rotation. Shields, Ross, and Cashner are one of the best top trios in the game based off track record, and could be just the ticket to cooling down a suddenly frisky Braves offense.
This series could be a key turning point for two teams who haven’t quite performed as many expected. If the Padres continue to click, this could jump-start their push towards the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. If the Braves bullpen trash fire continues to burn, it’s not going to matter how well the offense does or if the rotation shines.
Then again, with the way this season has gone so far, the four game series will be a split and neither team will have made any progress at all. This Braves team is just destined to play .500 ball until the final two weeks of the season when the wheels fall off completely and they finish ten under and fifteen games out.