The Cubs had about as good of a weekend as you could possibly hope in Baltimore. They don't have long to rest on their achievement with a trip south to Atlanta. The mid July matchup between two teams chasing the second wildcard spot might be one of the most suprising series in baseball. The Cubs were expected to add another high 90 win season, but have been mired around .500 all season. The Braves are in the same place as the Cubs but the narrative around them is one of triumph to finally be out of the cellar of the NL East.
The Braves come into the series matching the Cubs stride for stride recently. Both clubs swept the series coming out of the break, and both are 6-4 in their last ten. The Cubs hold a half game edge with a series few expected to be meaningful for both teams in March. The Braves offense is a better version of the one that ranked in the bottom of baseball. It is still a lower third offense by advanced metrics such as wOBA and wRC+, but they do rank highly in batting average. That is because they put a lot of balls in play and a lot of them find holes. The offense is lacking power and patience. That is why the Braves were willing to try Freddie Freeman at third base. This keeps Matt Adams sudden power surge in the lineup along with Freeman's amazing 2017 season slash line.
Braves pitching has not been good this season collectively, but a lot of that has been the spectacular failure of some reclamation projects and veterans. Bartolo Colon's 8.14 ERA is the most obvious example of this, but the starting staff as whole has under achieved all season. The only Braves starter with an ERA is Mike Foltynewicz, who the Cubs will not see in Hotlanta. The Braves bullpen on the other hand has been pretty good, and has been filled with some familar faces doing well in Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Motte and Rex Brothers. Currently Vizcaino and Motte are on the 10 day DL, but the Braves bullpen has been good this season.
The Cubs have a chance to go on that run we've been execting for an entire half season. It starts with Jon Lester righting the ship tonight. Any chance at making the postseasona and going deep once there rests on the very expensive left arm of Lester. It has been more than worth every penny so far, and it will need to continue to be in the second half. Typically Lester, as the Maddon helmed Cubs, have been stronger in the second half, and I have faith in the southpaw ace. John Lackey makes his first start off the DL and has a chance to prove he has something left in the tank. It is a good matchup given Lackey's biggest issue has been the gopher ball, and then Mike Montgomery gets at least one more shot in the rotation. The Cubs need to win series here up to the deadline to help set their course, and there is plenty of reason to think they can. But there was no reason to expect anything that has been 2017 to happen.
Monday: 6:35 pm CT WGN/670 AM
Tuesday: 6:35 pm CT CSN/670 AM
Wednesday: 11:10 am CT CSN/670 AM
1. Ender Inciarte (CF)
2. Brandon Phillips (2B)
3. Freddie Freeman (1B)
4. Matt Kemp (LF)
5. Tyler Flowers (C)
6. Nick Markakis (RF)
7. Sean Rodriguez (3B)
8. Johan Camargo (SS)
9. Julio Teheran (P)
via Baseball Press.
Scouting Reports from Books Baseball.
Julio Teheran: "His fourseam fastball has some natural sinking action and has essentially average velo. His slider has primarily 12-6 movement and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sliders. His sinker has some natural sinking action. His change is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' changeups, has a lot of backspin and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' changeups. His curve comes in below hitting speed, has little depth, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' curves and has slight glove-side movement. "
Sean Newcomb: "His fourseam fastball has good "rising" action, has well above average velo and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' fourseamers. His curvehas a sharp downward bite, is slightly harder than usual, results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' curves and has slight glove-side movement. His slider sweeps across the zone, has exceptional depth and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sliders. His change is much firmer than usual, has a lot of backspin, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' changeups and has slight armside fade."
R.A. Dickey: "His knuckleball flutters and floats unpredictably toward the plate. His sinker is so slow that it is substantially gravitational, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers and has slight armside run. His fourseam fastball comes in below hitting speed, is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, has some natural sinking action, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' fourseamers and has slight armside run. His change (take this with a grain of salt because he's only thrown 19 of them in 2017) comes in below hitting speed, is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' changeups, results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers' changeups and has slight armside fade."
One of the most surprising players for the Braves is Tyler Flowers. The White Sox castoff has found a home in Atlanta and is flourishing with the Braves. He is hitting well, and his pitch framing has reached elite levels. That has made him among the most valuable catchers in baseball, but there is one flaw in his game. He does not possess a strong throwing arm. The Cubs pounded the Orioles pitching staff, but it is probably going to be a little less home run friendly environment in Atlanta. The Cubs lineup today isn't well suited to it, but it would be nice to see the Cubs take advantage of this chink in the armor. After all given Flowers framing abilities the edges of the zone might not be very favorable for the usual patient approach of Cubs hitters.