If you’re looking for a reason to go to AT&T Park for a game in this series, then know that tonight is “Game of Thrones” Night. StubHub has tickets starting at $6 for every game of this series, including tonight, and so getting out to the yard before the season ends (and your favorite players retire or get traded away?) is a great deal to consider.
The Giants last played the Braves back in Atlanta at the beginning of May. Both teams were making it known that they were “a thing” — the Braves won 19 of their first 30 games and had a 1.5 game lead in the NL East; the Giants were a plucky 16-15 after going 64-98 the year before — but on paper, it looked like an obvious mismatch, heavily titled in the Braves’ favor. Kenny wrote in his preview:
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 went ahead and swept the three-game series to begin a 10-game, three-city road trip. They raised their record to 19-15 and just looked really good against the Braves’ pitching and held their young, high octane offense mostly in check.
But, oh, how their fortunes have changed! The Giants are 49-61 since that impressive sweep (the Braves are 60-50), out of the playoff race, and rethinking their entire existence. The Braves, on the other hand, have all but locked up the NL East (4.5 games up on Philadelphia) and are coming off a series win against the Diamomdbacks in Arizona that saw them win the first and last games in extra innings.
They’re doing it mostly with their pitching. Their 92 Team ERA- is 4th-best in the National League (Giants: 99; 100 is league average), led by Mike Foltynewicz and 34-year old Anibal Sanchez. But they’ve also received a strong performance from Kevin Gausman, whom they acquired from the Orioles at the trade deadline.
But it hasn’t been all about the pitching. Their Team wRC+ is 99, which is still 3rd-best in the National League. 20-year old Ronald Acuna has 25 home runs in a little over 400 plate appearances, and that leads the team. He leads in home runs on a team that has Freddie Freeman.
The Giants held him in check back in May (2 singles, a strikeout, and a double play in 12 plate appearances), but they were pretty much the only team to do that this season. He has a 1.200 OPS in September (43 plate appearances) and the Braves’ offense is averaging 5 runs a game.
Nobody thought the Braves needed to tank and rebuild except the team accountants. They timed it with an historic fleecing of Cobb County taxpayers, too, getting a new (and some would say equally unnecessary) stadium to go with their “rebuilding” roster. It worked out perfectly. The Braves were able to dump salary and keep some interesting players (Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran) and now they’re set up to contend for years to come.
ALERT! ALERT! The Wednesday afternoon game will be broadcast on Facebook.
Hitter to watch
Ronald Acuña Jr., for the obvious reason: he’s 20 years old and making baseball look easy. It shouldn’t look this easy, dammit, but he’s doing it. If we just pressed pause on his season and had it hold as his final line, his 150 wRC+ would be the highest total on the Giants since 2012, when Buster Posey posted a 164 and Melky Cabrera a 151.
Pitcher to watch
A.J. Minter was elevated to the closer role after Arodys Vizcaino was placed on the 60-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation. In the small sample size of his last six games, he’s allowed six earned runs and lost two games. Vizcaino is eligible to be activated for Wednesday’s finale, but in the meantime, Minter has been shaky, so a 1-2-3 ninth isn’t guaranteed, even if this is the Giants we’re talking about.
The Giants will win one of these games, just so we can remember the feeling.