It’s fair to say that the Atlanta Braves have been the most surprising team in all of Major League Baseball this season. They enter this weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles at the top of an NL East division that was expected to be a fight between the pitching-heavy New York Mets and the perennially powerful Washington Nationals. Instead, the Braves have crafted a winning formula of veterans playing the best baseball of their careers mixed with young prospects showing what all the fuss was about during their time down on the farm.
We cannot go any deeper into this preview without discussing the role that former Oriole Nick Markakis has played on this roster. The sweet-swinging 34-year-old has cooled down since a red-hot month of May, but he remains in the top 10 of the NL in batting average (.323), on base percentage (.387), doubles (21) and RBI (44). According to the most recent update to the MLB All-Star voting totals, Markakis is going to make the first Mid-Summer Classic of his 13-year career. Congrats, Nick!
However, this is no one-man team. Freddie Freeman leads the club with 49 RBI, a .332 batting average, .420 on-base percentage and .579 slugging percentage. Second-year second baseman Ozzie Albies is pacing the roster with 23 doubles and 15 home runs. As a unit, no team has scored more runs (359) or hit more doubles (149) in the National League than Atlanta.
The Braves pitching staff has been solid. Their 3.58 ERA is the fifth-best mark in the NL. Arodys Vizcaino, their closer, has recorded 15 saves in 17 chances while striking out 33 batters in 29.2 innings. The team’s go-to reliever, however, is Dan Winkler. The right-hander has just a .165 batting average against and is striking out more than 12 batters per nine innings pitched.
Ryan Flaherty is here too. His role has greatly diminished as the season has worn on, but he is hitting .258/.343/.355 with a pair of home runs, six doubles and 11 RBI if you care.
RHP Alex Cobb (2-9, 7.14 ERA) vs LHP Sean Newcomb (8-2, 2.70 ERA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET, MASN 2
Cobb’s uneasy campaign continued last time out against the Marlins. Although he threw seven innings, he also gave up five runs on seven hits, including two home runs, two walks and six strikeouts. His season ERA got down into the 7’s back in early May, and that is where it has stayed over the last month and a half.
As this is an interleague matchup, and Cobb has spent all of his career in the AL, he has very little experience against Atlanta’s hitters. Markakis is 5-for-18 with a double against him, and Flaherty has a 3-for-9 line from their time in Baltimore.
The 25-year-old Newcomb has had himself quite a sophomore breakout. He is striking out more than a batter per inning while posting an impressive 144 ERA+ and 3.23 FIP. Prepare for loads of groundballs; 50 percent of batted balls against the southpaw end up on the infield dirt.
RHP Dylan Bundy (5-7, 3.81 ERA) vs RHP Julio Teheran (5-4, 3.97 ERA)
Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET, MASN 2
It feels like Teheran has been around the league forever, and yet he is still just 27 years old. His big league seasons have oscillated from steady to All-Star caliber. This year is shaping up to be an effective, yet unspectacular performance. His 5.27 FIP is the worst of his career and his 98 ERA+ isn’t much better.
Truth be told, the Atlanta hurler has been a tad lucky so far, as his 7.83 K/9 rate is only slightly above his career average. But he is walking 4.21 batters in that same time and allowing only a .218 batting average on balls in play. Those numbers don’t typically amount to much success.
Bundy is doing his best to earn an All-Star nod of his own. His 1.7 WAR leads the O’s (yes, better than Manny Machado), and the 25-year-old is putting together the finest season of his young career. Last week’s outing against Miami was a bit of a speed bump. Prior to that, he had not allowed a run in his previous two starts, which covered 15 innings.
RHP David Hess (2-3, 4.82 ERA) vs TBD
Sunday, 1:35 p.m. ET, MASN
The rookie gets another start for the Birds. Why not? His last two outings (8.0 total innings, 10 runs, 10 hits, seven walks, four strikeouts, three home runs) have not been great, but that’s bound to happen. Overall, the 24-year-old righty has been solid and deserves this extended look in the rotation during a lost season.
Atlanta’s website is not listing a starter yet, but Mike Foltynewicz (5-4, 2.16 ERA) is expected to return from the DL (triceps) on Sunday and get the start on the bump. That’s unfortunate for Baltimore, because Foltynewicz is really, really good. He is in the top 10 in the NL in K/9 (10.71), fewest HR/9 (0.57), ERA, and WAR (2.1/2.3). If Foltynewicz can’t go, Brandon McCarthy (5-3, 4.89) will. McCarthy isn’t as good of a pitcher, but he’s pretty much the best baseball player on Twitter, so it’s a wash.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Braves?
This poll is closed
0 (The Orioles get swept)
3 (The Orioles sweep the Braves)