The Atlanta Braves are in the middle of a four-year playoff drought or respite if you’re a fan of any other team. This matches their longest such drought in my lifetime and I have about seven months to make it onto a 30-under-30 list. They were not expected to end it this year, especially after the John Coppolella revelations this past winter. Fangraphs had them at just a 3.2% chance of a postseason berth when the season started, but it’s 2018 and nothing makes sense. Down is up, hot is cold, Pablo Sandoval has as many 1-2-3 innings as Kenley Jansen. Atlanta’s playoff odds have risen all the way up to 22.1%. It’s still around random chance, but considering where they were, the Braves will take those odds.
The Braves, in other words, are looming. They’re a jump scare you know is coming, but they’re still going to make you spill your $9 popcorn.
One of the major reasons the Braves are on the rise is that their pitching-centric rebuild has netted them two of the most exciting hitting prospects in the majors. That’s not how that’s supposed to work, but these are the Braves. The governing principles of the universe don’t apply to them.
The Giants are playing well, yes. They’ve won four straight series which they definitely didn’t do last year. It took them until May 17th to win four series total last year which is earlier than I would have thought. Brandon Belt has been an unstoppable walking machine, Nick Hundley is trying to put Buster Posey out of a job, and Evan Longoria has mashed many a #LongoDongo. But can they hope to stop the likes of Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Flaherty, and... Jose Bautista?
I told you 2018 is weird.
With Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña, and the aforementioned 30+ year olds tearing apart all pitchers who stand before them, the Braves are leading the majors with a 115 wRC+. If you’re unfamiliar with wRC+ (like, let’s say you’re my mom reading my first article for my new gig), every point above 100 means a team is one percent better than league average. So the Braves are 15% better than league average. Their entire team! The Giants, who will rely on their offense with a decimated starting rotation, are at 92. The Giants only have four players whose individual wRC+ is higher than the Braves team-wide mark. One of whom is Nick Hundley, and another is Mac Williamson who only got 19 PAs before he was ripped away from us. This will not be pretty.
The three pitchers being offered as tribute will be Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, and Andrew Suarez. Stratton is coming off the worse start of his career. Blach is a mortal man against all teams that aren’t the Dodgers.* Andrew Suarez was the fourth best option for the back of the rotation when the first two options projected to be slightly above replacement. All three have shown hints that maybe the projection systems are wrong about them. That maybe PECOTA just didn’t take the time to get to know the real Ty Blach, to look beyond his career K/9 of 4.25 and see his better than average HR/FB ratio.
*2.02 ERA against the Dodgers, 5.14 ERA against everyone else.
It was nice not having to worry about the Braves the past few years, but that time appears to be over.
Hitter to Watch: Ronald Acuña. In his first week of play, Acuña is hitting .382/.432./.706 with a 211 wRC+. It’s not quite Barry Bonds in 2004 but it’s pretty good. If you want to nitpick, you can look at his .458 BABIP and say that’s not sustainable, but of course his BABIP is going to be high. He’s been ripping the ball.
Pitcher to Watch: If there’s any hope, it lies in the Stratton. Not just for this series but for the rest of the season. Stratton going out and throwing a quality start would do wonders to stave off the impending sense of doom I feel. Perhaps his last outing against the Dodgers was an unrepeatable anomaly. I mean, Madison Bumgarner had that game against the Twins where he gave up eight runs in the first inning. Maybe that was his Twins game.
Prediction: Giants drop two out of three and end the weekend playing .500 baseball.