Braves Killers to watch for from the NL East

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It will be as crucial as ever that the Braves come out hot from the get-go this season. And one way to do just that is knowing who your most significant threats are. Granted, we know team-wise that matchups against the LA Dodgers, Nationals, and Phillies will always be significant. However, at least in 2020, the Braves won’t have to worry about the guys in blue during the regular season, as all of the team’s opponents will reside in the NL and AL East.

Regardless, on top of this year’s matchups with the AL East’s Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, the Braves will face challenges against their fellow NL East rivals. Here’s a list of players that seemingly always give the Braves trouble. 

Hitters

To qualify, these NL East hitters must be both active and have at least 100 career plate appearances versus the Braves:

Bryce Harper, OF (PHI)

556 PA, .275 AVG, .927 OPS, 32 HR, 79 RBI

Only two other active players have faced the Braves more than Harper (Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman), and no one in MLB has slugged more home runs against them. The truth is, Harper has been a pain in the Braves’ side ever since he debuted back in 2012, especially during his seven seasons with the Nationals. In 131 total games versus the Braves, the former first overall pick has consistently done damage, and thus far, there has only been one team that he’s logged more hits or total bases against… the Marlins. Sure, Harper’s 1.048 OPS (.329 AVG) in 209 plate appearances against the Cardinals may look impressive, but against the Braves, he seems to have everything going his way. 

Trea Turner, SS (WAS)

309 PA, .330 AVG, .901 OPS, 12 HR, 23 SB

Harper may bring the power when playing the Braves, but his former teammate in Washington holds the NL East’s best AVG against them. Through 69 career games versus the Braves, Turner has slashed .330/.370/.531 as one of the division’s (and MLB’s) most talented shortstop. And he may not be a big threat to go deep, but Turner’s 12 homers against the Braves is tops for the 27-year-old, who has double digits against just one other team (Phillies). Turner has also been a danger on the base paths during his five seasons in the majors, having stolen 23 of his 159 bags on Braves’ catchers — the most stolen bases against the Braves by an NL East player. It’ll serve them well if the Braves can find some way to shut down Turner, because so far he’s hitting and running all over them. 

Juan Soto, OF (WAS)

141 PA, .303 AVG, 1.087 OPS, 9 HR, 25 RBI

We’re only talking about 32 games, but Soto has already made a name for himself in the big leagues, and much of his success has come at the hands of the Braves. The kid doesn’t give up on an at-bat, which explains why he currently holds the NL East’s highest OBP against the Braves (.454), and third-best mark among all major leaguers. So far, Soto has just as many walks as strikeouts (31) versus Atlanta, and it’s safe to say that he’ll serve as a significant opponent for Braves’ pitchers once again in 2020. 

Pitchers

To qualify, starting pitchers must have at least five career starts against the Braves, and relievers must have made at least 25 relief appearances. 

Jacob deGrom, SP (NYM)

21 starts, 137.1 IP, 1.97 ERA, 10.7 K/9

Just like with opposing NL East hitters, the list of pitchers that have been Braves Killers throughout their career is rather unsurprising. deGrom, who has dominated every team he has ever faced, is perhaps the Braves’ biggest challenge in the division. Of NL East starters that have at least five starts versus the Braves, deGrom has maintained the lowest ERA, second-most total strikeouts (163) and best WHIP (0.990). There’s a reason he has won the NL Cy Young award the last two seasons, and it would certainly behoove the Braves to figure out deGrom in 2020 finally. 

Stephen Strasburg, SP (WAS)

34 starts, 185.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 11.1 K/9

Of all active MLB starting pitchers, only Cole Hamels has faced the Braves more than Strasburg. And while the hard-throwing righty doesn’t necessarily hold the best ERA against them, he has logged the most strikeouts (229) and currently holds the top K-rate. Ironically though, Strasburg’s success against the Braves in 2019 was extremely consistent with his career. He ended the year with the same 4.07 ERA over four 2019 starts and an identical 11.1 strikeouts per nine. However, when looking at his entire body of work against all MLB teams over his career, Strasburg’s numbers against the Braves are some of his worst yet. In fact, Strasburg has held a sub-3.00 career ERA versus a whopping 15 of the 27 teams he has faced during his ten years in the majors. The Braves are one of just ten teams that Strasburg currently holds an ERA over 4.00. Either way, he’s almost always a tough matchup for the Braves.

Steven Matz, SP (NYM)

13 starts, 70.1 IP, 2.94 ERA, 7.7 K/9

Overall, Matz is a rather average big league starting pitcher, with his best season coming in 2016 when he posted 2.5 fWAR and struck out 129 batters, while also finishing with a 3.40 ERA, in 132.1 innings. Since then… Matz has been a 1-1.5 WAR starter… but for some reason, the Braves always bring out the best in him. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if he morphs into a Cy Young pitcher. However, Matz seems to know just what it takes to limit the damage against the Braves’ young lineup. In fact, last season, only the Cardinals finished with a lower AVG (.150) when facing Matz as the Braves hit just .173 in his six starts, while being held to a stingy 3.19 ERA. Throughout Matz’s career, only four other teams have performed worse against him, per ERA (Rays, Indians, White Sox, Giants). 

Aaron Nola, SP (PHI)

18 starts, 113.1 IP, 2.94 ERA, 7.9 K/9

Nola took a bit of a step back last season after breaking out during the 2018 campaign — a year in which he finished 3rd and 13th in the NL Cy Young and MVP vote, respectively. Up until last season, pitching against the Braves was always his specialty, even more than his unique success facing American League opponents (career 3.25 ERA, 10.3 K/9 vs. interleague teams). The Braves did hit a little better against Nola in 2019, ending the year with an ERA-against almost two runs higher than his career mark (4.75) through six starts. Hopefully, they can continue that trend this coming season, given the Phillies will be pushing for a division crown in 2020. 

Hector Neris, RP (PHI)

38 G, 40 IP, 2.92 ERA, 12 SV, 10.4 K/9

Despite Neris’ long-running success versus Braves’ hitters, he wound up surrendering a bloated 5.40 ERA to them last season — the second-highest mark among the 18 different teams he faced in his most recent campaign. However, don’t let those ten games versus the Braves last year fool you. Neris has had the Braves’ number, including a .211 career batting average against (his second-best BAA against any opponent in the majors during his career, among teams he has appeared in at least 15 games against). 

Jeurys Familia, RP (NYM)

46 G, 47 IP, 3.83 ERA, 16 SV, 8.8 K/9

Set to turn 31-years-old in October, Familia isn’t quite the reliever he once was, especially during those three seasons stretching from 2014-16, when he ended each year with a sub-3.00 ERA and at least 8.50 strikeouts per nine. In fact, the 2019 season was the worst of his career, as Familia finished with a sloppy 5.70 ERA in 60 innings for the Mets, which wasn’t helped by the 7.11 mark he allowed against the Braves. Perhaps Familia is no longer much of a threat, but his numbers are still quite good for a guy that has pitched in the NL East for much of his eight seasons in the majors. And to top it off… the guy has allowed just two home runs to Braves’ hitters throughout his entire career.

 

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