Atlanta Braves Series Preview: August 23 & 24

Someone’s nine-game winning streak is coming to an end tonight. Both the Yankees and Braves enter this series in Atlanta riding high as the hottest teams in the majors. Both have somewhat similar stories to tell. Like the Yanks, Atlanta got off to a disappointing start only to rally and climb back into a postseason spot over the last month or so.

It’ll be interesting to see how Aaron Boone draws up the Yankees’ lineup for these two games in a National League park. One of Anthony Rizzo and Luke Voit will have to sit, which makes me thing we’ll see a Joey Gallo-Aaron Judge-Giancarlo Stanton outfield for the next two days. You don’t want to see one of the first baseman and Stanton on the bench, in my opinion. But we’ll see, of course. Anyway, let’s get to know the Braves a bit more.

Their story so far

Atlanta didn’t seem like a real threat to make the playoffs roughly a month ago. They were hovering around .500 and had lost one of the league’s best players, Ronald Acuña Jr., for the rest of the season to an ACL tear. This came a little more than a month after the Marcell Ozuna was arrested for domestic violence. Aside from potential legal issues, a league suspension is all but certain for Ozuna.

Losing Acuña could have been the death knell to Atlanta’s season, but it hasn’t been. They were 44-44 when that happened, 4.0 games back of the Mets in the division and 7.0 games out of a Wild Card spot, but are 24-8 since and now 5.0 games up on the second place Phillies. As great as Atlanta has played, it’s a bit embarrassing for the Mets and Phillies to allow the Braves to make such a steep and rapid climb without one of the league’s biggest stars.

In spite of a 94 OPS+ as a team, Atlanta has scored 4.93 runs per game this season, which is seventh-best in the majors and third-best in the National League. They actually have the third-most runs scored in MLB since Acuña’s injury, which is remarkable. In particular, they’ve gotten huge performances from Austin Riley (171 wRC+), Freddie Freeman (165 wRC+), and Dansby Swanson (161 wRC+) ever since Acuña went down. Plus, the acquisitions of Joc Pederson (113 wRC+), Jorge Soler (134 wRC+), and Adam Duvall (98 wRC+) have been big helps. Eddie Rosario is still coming too.

Atlanta’s pitching staff is better than average as a whole (4.19 runs per game vs. 4.50 league average), but it’s also been terrific of late. Max Fried and Charlie Morton have carried the rotation over the past month and the entire staff has allowed the third-fewest runs per game since Acuña’s injury.

Clearly, just about everything that had to go right has gone right for Atlanta. Sure, the NL East competition (or lack thereof) helped, but the team is also getting big performances on its roster. As such, their 24-12 record since losing RAJ is the second-best in the majors (tied with San Francisco and Tampa Bay). Of course, the Yankees are at the top over that stretch at 26-10.

Injury report

PlayerPositionInjuryRoster StatusReturn
Ronald Acuña Jr.OFTorn ACL60-day IL2022
Marcell Ozuna1OFDislocated fingers10-day ILTBD
Eddie RosarioOFStrained abdominal10-day ILEnd of August/Early September
Ian AndersonRHPShoulder iflammation10-day ILSeptember
Tucker DavidsonLHPForearm inflammation60-day IL
Mike SorokaRHPTorn Achilles Tendon60-day IL
Grant DaytonLHPShoulder inflammation60-day IL
  1. Ozuna is really away because he was arrested for domestic violence in May. Legal charges against him are still pending against him. A suspension from MLB, too.
  2. Travis d’Arnaud should be available for this series (he was on paternity leave).

Spotlight: Dansby Swanson

As Swanson got his feet wet with the Braves early in his career, it never looked like he’d live up to his billing as the first overall pick in the draft back in 2015. Through 2019, Swanson owned a .245/.318/.385 (81 wRC+) in 1,774 major league plate appearances. He was a plus defender at shortstop, but it didn’t look like he’d offer much else.

Then, in 2020, his power ricked up. He hit 10 homers in 264 plate appearances and posted a .274/.345/.464 (116 wRC+) line in the pandemic-shortened season. Those power gains remained real to start 2021, but everything else cratered closer to Swanson’s pre-pandemic numbers. He had just a .231/.289/.431 (87 wRC+) through June of this season. Last year was looking more like an aberration, and then, come July, he got hot again. Just in the nick of time, too.

As noted earlier, Swanson has been one of the team’s hottest hitters since Acuña got hurt. It’s brought his full season line up to .266/.322/.489 (112 wRC+) and 24 home runs total. The improvement seems real as his xwOBA is only climbing as the days go by.

Projected Lineup

  1. Ozzie Albies, 2B (.255/.317/.481, 109 wRC+)
  2. Jorge Soler, RF (.204/.306/.395, 91 wRC+)
  3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (.299/.396/.515, 139 wRC+)
  4. Austin Riley, 3B (.296/.372/.531, 138 wRC+)
  5. Dansby Swanson, SS (.266/.322/.489, 112 wRC+)
  6. Travis d’Arnaud, C (.236/.293/.406, 85 wRC+)
  7. Adam Duvall, LF (.223/.283/.472, 102 wRC+)
  8. Joc Pederson, CF (.241/.315/.425, 99 wRC+
  9. Pitcher Spot

Bench:

  • Stephen Vogt, C (.196/.290/.314, 64 wRC+)
  • Ehire Adrianza, UTIL (.247/.329/.407, 97 wRC+)
  • Abraham Almonte, OF (.218/.333/.401, 99 wRC+)
  • Guillermo Heredia, OF (.227/.312/.371, 84 wRC+)

Pitching Matchup

Tonight, 7:20pm eastern:

LHP Jordan Montgomery (115 ERA+)

No one in the Yankees’ rotation has been more consistent than Montgomery this season. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since June 15th, and has only done so four times all season (in 22 starts).

RHP Huascar Ynoa (167 ERA+)

Ynoa just returned from more than two months on the injured list with a broken hand. He’s been quite good when healthy this season, allowing two or fewer runs in seven of his nine starts this season.

Ynoa.

Tomorrow, 7:20pm eastern:

LHP Andrew Heaney (84 ERA+)

The lefty was an unlikely hero dominating Boston in his last start. Hopefully, we get that good version of Heaney once again. Atlanta has plenty of power, so keeping the ball in the yard could prove to be a challenge for Heaney.

RHP Charlie Morton (130 ERA+)

He just can’t be avoided. I was glad to see Morton get out of the American League, but the Yankees will face him anyway tomorrow. And yup, he’s still good. Morton got off to a slow start (4.50 ERA in 13 starts), but has been on fire since (2.55 ERA in 12 starts).

Morton.

Bullpen Status

PitcherSundaySaturdayFriday
Will Smith (L)1713
Richard Rodríguez10
Tyler Matzek (L)1015
Luke Jackson1416
Chris Martin11
AJ Minter (L)7
Edgar Santana
Jesse Chavez
Josh Tomlin
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4 Comments

  1. HenryKrinkle

    Well, I guess these new injury updates solve some of the roster issues that would still have been a problem even after the Sept 1 expansion.

  2. Why isn’t Gil starting? Heaney has had one good start in 3 years.

  3. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Must split series, Derek. I don’t think we need to win it, and we won’t with how hot the Braves are. For these next 6 games I think all we need to do is go 3-3. That’s what’s great about being the frontrunner is you just have to not lose ground. Now if you want to catch Tampa then we probably have to go 4-2. Braves are a good club with a solid lineup. Win tonight. I don’t like that Heaney-Morton matchup. I would play Voit tonight and sit Rizzo. Ride the hot hand. Play Stanton, Judge and Gallo in the OF both games. Day off yesterday and Thursday to rest. Play Velazquez early and often. If Cash doesn’t make him the SS of the future should be fired on the spot. I think he’ll be Yankee captain one day.

    • Rich

      I’m a big fan of the kid too, but to declare him the SS of the future might be ambitious? I mean sure, players can evolve at all different stages of their career, but the fact that he batted sub .200 in his MLB career with no HR’s prior to joining the Yankees is reason to pause. Even now he’s batting .242 with 1 HR in 33 AB’s with the team. Would love for him to prove me wrong, but a Brian Doyle scenario is perhaps more likely.

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