Braves: Previewing the NLDS

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We finally made it to the series we’ve really been waiting for: the National League Division Series, a five-game series the Braves have lost eight consecutive times now (last NLDS win came in 2001). Boy, could this team use a three-game sweep this week (and I’m not just asking for the starting rotation’s sake). However, it won’t be easy, given the Marlins of Miami come to Atlanta Houston with all the mojo on their side as they just got done embarrassing the almighty Cubs, winning two games in a row in Chicago. 

 

NLDS Schedule

  • GM 1 / Tues – 2:08 p.m. (ET) FS1
  • GM 2 / Wed – 2:08 p.m. (ET) MLBN
  • GM 3 / Thurs – 2:08 p.m. (ET) FS1
  • GM 4 / Fri – 2:08 p.m. (ET) FS1
  • GM 5 / Sat – 4:08 p.m. (ET) FS1

 

NLDS Probable Starters

  • GM 1 – Sandy Alcantara vs. Max Fried
  • GM 2 – Pablo Lopez or Sixto Sanchez vs. Ian Anderson, RHP
  • GM 3 – Pablo Lopez or Sixto Sanchez vs. Kyle Wright, RHP 

 

Fortunately for Atlanta, they have the mojo on their side when it comes to playing Miami, if for no other reason than the Braves’ absolute thrashing from September 9th when they hung 29 runs on the Fish, thanks to 23 hits and six home runs. Hell, even Ender Inciarte — who hasn’t hit a lick for almost two years now — finished with a couple of knocks and an RBI. Maybe the Braves should give Tommy Milone another run at ’em, eh? 

In all seriousness, though, this is definitely not the Marlins of the last ten years, a stretch that has featured ten losing seasons and five last-place finishes. Miami, who entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, isn’t necessarily a World Series contender, but a middle of the road starting rotation coupled with a not-too-shabby, contact-oriented offense can always catch fire if the conditions are just right. Like any series in the postseason, everything must go right for the Braves. So let’s dive into the series, shall we…

 

Starting Rotations 

Marlins 

Tied for 14th in the majors in collective starting rotation WAR (3.6), while posting a 4.31 ERA, all-in-all Miami’s starting rotation wasn’t necessarily a world-beater during the regular season, though their top-three arms can give any offense fits. However, just like the Braves, the Marlins’ starting staff will start thinning if the series reaches four games. 

Possible starters

  • Sixto Sanchez, RHP – 3.46 ERA, 1.0 WAR
  • Sandy Alcantara, RHP – 3.00 ERA, 0.9 WAR
  • Pablo Lopez, RHP – 3.61 ERA, 1.6 WAR
  • Trevor Rogers, LHP – 6.11 ERA, 0.4 WAR
  • Daniel Castano, LHP – 3.86 ERA, 0.1 WAR

Miami has Sixto Sanchez to thank for his gem during the team’s elimination game versus the Cubs on Friday, when the 22-year-old tossed five scoreless innings, featuring just four hits, two walks and six strikeouts. Although the Marlins are probably used to that sort of stinginess from the young Dominican, considering he held opposing lineups to four or less hits in three of his seven regular season starts, and only allowed more than six hits once.

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1312094342102876164?s=19

He’s the Marlins’ top-prospect, he’s having the season of his life, and he throws three different pitches (changeup, sinker, four-seamer) almost at identical rates. In two outings versus the Braves this year, Sanchez has a win and a no-decision to go along with a 4.00 ERA (only the Nationals have faired better against the righty).

Sandy Alcantara is a hard-throwing righty that sits around 97 mph with both his four-seamer and sinker-grip fastball, and with that elite velocity also comes dominance as opposing batters hit .193 and .231, respectively, versus the two offerings this season.

https://twitter.com/fishstripes/status/1311370628214251520?s=19

Unfortunately for the Braves, the 25-year-old is capable of punching out batters with essentially any of his four most-used pitches, for his slider and changeup both have whiff-rates above 35%. Alcantara tossed a three-hit, quality-start against the Cubs in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, striking out four and walking three over 6.2 innings for the win. He was fortunate enough to miss the Braves during the regular season but is expected to take the mound and battle Max Fried in Game 1 on Tuesday.

It may be a surprise given how much talk Sanchez has received, but it’s Pablo Lopez who paces the Miami starting rotation in WAR. A tad more reliant on his mid-90s mph fastball than Sanchez above, the 24-year-old Lopez more than doubled his WAR total this season in half the innings, compared to 2019. His four-seamer (28.6 whiff%) and changeup (32.9%) are his two put-away pitches as opposing batters hit below .230 versus both offerings during the regular season.

Lopez hasn’t pitched in the postseason yet in 2020, but he has three starts against the Braves this year, and he struggled to the tune of a 6.39 ERA (his worst ERA against any opponent this season). 

Between prospect Trevor Rogers and Daniel Castano, it certainly appears Rogers is the all-around most dangerous potential “extra” starter in the event the series surpasses three games, and thankfully the Braves won’t have to worry about Elieser Hernandez, who’s out with an injury.

Rogers, a 22-year-old lefty, does have an ugly ERA but he also struck out 12.5 batters per nine innings during the regular season. Good thing the Braves lit him up in his lone start on September 21st, tallying five runs from eight hits (though Miami still won). 

 

Braves

Nothing has changed since our Wild Card Series preview from last week: the Braves will enter the next round of the postseason having cobbled together one of the five-worst starting rotations in the majors during the regular season. However, after back-to-back gems from the staff’s top-two arms in the first-round versus Cincinnati, there’s at least more confidence surrounding a weak link that perhaps isn’t so weak at this point.

 

Possible starters

  • Max Fried, LHP – 2.25 ERA, 1.5 WAR
  • Ian Anderson, RHP – 1.95 ERA, 1.1 WAR
  • Kyle Wright, RHP – 5.21 ERA, -0.1 WAR
  • Bryse Wilson, RHP – 4.02 ERA, 0.2 WAR
  • Huascar Ynoa, RHP – 5.82 ERA, 0.0 WAR

 

Max Fried held Cincinnati’s lineup in check last Wednesday, thanks to a heavy diet of curveballs, and it was a solid plan considering the Reds’ offense was one of the worst against the curve during the regular season (per FanGraphs‘ Pitch Value).

Although, the Marlins have faired much better against the hook in 2020, so perhaps he’ll need to mix things up a bit more in his start on Tuesday. Regardless, Fried has had plenty of success against the Fish this year. In two regular season starts, he boasts a 2.45 ERA.

Matching his pitch-usage rates for the regular season, Ian Anderson attacked the Reds in Game 2 last week in exactly the way he has all year long, combining to throw his four-seamer and changeup roughly 80% of the time while occasionally mixing in his curveball to keep opposing batters honest.

I say stay with the same plan versus Miami, considering Anderson generated a whiff-rate of 36% during his previous outing (highlighted by a 44% rate with his offspeed offering). 

Here we go, the Braves can’t hide Kyle Wright in this series, though not that they necessarily would want to given his recent performance.

https://twitter.com/FOXSportsBraves/status/1174507077752037381?s=19

Still, the inconsistent nature of Wright’s big league career can cause any Braves fan a bit of anxiety, and there’s no doubt manager Brian Snitker will have the righty on a short leash. Of Wright’s eight regular season starts in 2020, his two against Miami rank within the bottom-three per Game Score, with his September 8th outing ranking last (4 IP, 4 ER, 3 HR). Hopefully that’s not the case in what looks to be a Game 3 opportunity for Wright.

As of this past weekend, Braves’ probables for Games 4 and 5 are still TBA, though it would seem likely that some sort of combination of Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa would suffice. If it were me, I’d start Wilson in Game 4 (if needed) and hope he can provide at least three innings before deploying the bullpen, since it’s unlikely the Braves will be fully-stocked with available relievers at that point in the series.

However, who knows, maybe a bullpen game is possible if Fried, Anderson and Wright are able to combine for 20+ innings in their respective starts. Regardless, we’ll find out as the series progresses. FYI: Ynoa faced Miami on September 21st and lasted three innings while allowing three runs from five hits to go along with a strikeout and a walk.

 

Bullpens

MIAATL
5.50 ERA3.50 ERA
7.3 K/99.31 K/9
4.6 BB/93.53 BB/9
1.64 HR/90.99 HR/9
0.83 WPA1.5 WPA
-1.4 WAR2.1 WAR

 

Marlins

Only the Mariners accrued less WAR during the regular season, in terms of their bullpen as Miami was good for -1.4 WAR, thanks to a 5.50 ERA (5.65 FIP) and the majors fourth-highest home run rate (1.64 HR/9). This just isn’t a very good ‘pen, and to make matters worse it consists of a relief core that struck out only 7.3 batters per nine this year (last in MLB). The end-goal for the Braves’ lineup will most definitely be to get the Marlins’ starter out of the way so that it can face that punchless bullpen. If they can do that, chances are this will be a quick series because this a real weak spot for Miami. 

 

Braves

Following Fried’s seven innings in Game 1, seven different Braves’ relievers appeared as the game went 13 innings, allowing just five hits and zero runs altogether. At any point one of those seven guys could’ve had an off day, but like for much of the season, everyone entered their respective outing on a roll. Game 2 of the NLWC featured much of the same, though only three relievers this time, combining to work three scoreless innings after Anderson’s start. For the series, that’s ten successful appearances, and that kind of consistency from the bullpen will certainly benefit the Braves as they face their next challenge. The Braves carried 10 relievers in the Reds series, though it’s probable that they increase that count to 11 or 12 for the NLDS. Regardless, this time, perhaps the team should just go ahead and cover Chris Martin up in bubble wrap.

 

Offenses 

MIAATL
4.4 R/G5.8 R/G
.703 OPS.832 OPS
95 wRC+122 wRC+
8.8 BB%10.2 BB%
24.8 K%24.2 K%
3.5 WAR11.2 WAR

Marlins

In terms of their standing among the rest of the majors, you could say Miami and Cincinnati wield similar offenses. However, the two lineup’s styles are quite different. While the Reds were more of a three-true-outcome type group with above average power, the Marlins walk less and finished near the bottom of baseball in home runs. Also, the Fish are a little better at making contact in general, even if it is less significant contact. Altogether, Miami ended the 2020 regular season in the bottom-five in WAR, though the group’s .244 AVG tied for 14th in the majors. They combined for seven runs from 13 hits in their NLWC series versus the Cubs last week. 

Shortstop Miguel Rojas (142 wRC+), 1B/DH Garrett Cooper (133 wRC+), third baseman Brian Anderson (121 wRC+) and 1B/DH Jesus Aguilar (121 wRC+) are the team’s key bats, while Anderson and Aguilar provide the power as the duo finished with 11 and eight home runs, respectively. Rojas is probably Miami’s best all-around contact guy, as well as the lineup’s WAR leader (1.6), which is pretty impressive considering he missed 14 games in August, due to a strained hamstring. He finished 2020 slashing .304/.392/.496 with four homers and five stolen bases in 40 games, plus he walks almost as much as he strikes out.

https://twitter.com/FanDuel/status/1287456939266498566?s=19

Outfielder and former Brave, Matt Joyce (96 wRC+), started heating up a bit towards the end of the regular season and has been playing well so far this postseason. And though he hasn’t played as well as he did in 2019, outfielder Corey Dickerson (95 wRC+) hit .258 with seven homers in 52 games this season as the team’s primary lead-off hitter. 

 

Braves

It’s hard to complain about a series sweep, but baseball’s second-best offense (per wRC+) in 2020 struggled against the Reds in Game 1 last week. Sure, that happens when you’re facing one of the top starting rotations in baseball, but the bats can’t turn off every time the pitching gets good. As shown above, the Marlins will roll out a three-headed monster of solid starters in the first three games of the series, and it’s up to the lineup’s key cogs to get things started for the offense. And though there wasn’t a ton of excitement from the Braves at the plate during the previous series (save for a couple of homers from Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall in Game 2), every hitter in the lineup, except for Freddie Freeman, recorded a hit in Thursday’s Game 2.

Expect to see the Braves aggressive with the bat in these next several games, which will hopefully get the offense rolling and the momentum on their side. We’ve seen the Atlanta offense break things open against Miami before; there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do it again in this upcoming series.

 

Defenses

 

MIAATL
Brian Anderson, 3B

(4 OAA)

Ozzie Albies, 2B

(4 OAA)

0 DRS-8 DRS
0.5 UZR-8.1 UZR
1.5 Def-12.1 Def

Marlins

The Marlins rank just outside the top-ten on defense (per FanGraphs), managing the major’s 11th-most defensive WAR during the 2020 regular season. The group’s 0 DRS puts them at 14th in MLB, making Miami an average defense (as much as you’d want to count on defensive metrics during a shortened season). When using Statcast‘s OAA (Outs Above Average), four players stand out for the Marlins, with infielders Brian Anderson (4 OAA) and Miguel Rojas (2 OAA) leading the way from the left side of the dirt, followed by outfielders Starling Marte (2 OAA) and Magneuris Sierra (1 OAA), who both man center field.

https://twitter.com/BigFIyBri/status/1283104939502448640?s=19

Outfielders Monte Harrison and Corey Dickerson (both with 0 OAA) have played respectable defense in 2020 as well. 

Behind the plate , Miami was led by veteran Francisco Cervelli when it came to pitch-framing, but the 34-year-old catcher retired this past Saturday, leaving the Marlins with two guys that rate below-average with the glove in Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach. 

 

Braves 

Despite owning some pretty rough numbers during the regular season (again, small samples), the Braves’ defense has been solid so far during the playoffs, and hopefully that trend continues in the NLDS.

In Game 1 of the NLWC against the Reds, Adam Duvall earned an outfield assist when he gunned down baserunner Nick Castellanos attempting to advance to third. And in terms of errors, there hasn’t been any so far, though catcher Travis d’Arnaud did have a ball get past him last Wednesday. Defensive miscues are hardly ever an issue for the Braves, and considering they roster two above-average pitch-framers in d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers, the pitching staff is always in good hands. 

 

Injury Report

Marlins

  • OF, Starling Marte (hand) – could be back at some point during NLDS
  • P, Jose Urena (forearm) – out for 2020. Karma sucks
  • P, Josh A. Smith (finger) – eligible to return during NLDS

Braves

There are currently no injuries to speak of, at least in terms of any expected absences. Ronald Acuna Jr. will play through his wrist ailment, and it appears he may be forced to go under the knife because of it this offseason. 

 

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