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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Braves

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A look at the weekend series coming up against the Braves

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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Talking Chop

The Opponent in one sentence

The Braves are looking like the latest rebuilding team to arrive a year early with the second-best record in the National League thanks to the NL’s best lineup and a solid pitching staff to go with it.

Record

29-19

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 0, Braves 0

Trend

Up, slightly. The Braves aren’t scorching hot right now or anything and are coming off a series in which they dropped two of three to the Phillies (another upstart NL East team), but overall they’re heading in the right direction. Prior to that Phillies series Atlanta had won their last four series including one against the Cubs.

Pitching Matchups

5/25: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Julio Teheran, 7:10 PM ET

It’s been a typical season for Rodriguez near the bottom of the Red Sox rotation. The lefty has shown huge flashes where we see all of the potential in his arm, but he’s also struggled with efficiency, nibbles around the zone too much and has just generally been inconsistent. Rodriguez needs to utilize his entire arsenal, as we’ve discussed many times, but he also needs to attack the zone and his opponents with much more confidence. It’s something that should come with experience, but that is becoming less and less of an excuse for Rodriguez as time goes on. The good news is that two of his last three outings have been great, though they have also been shorter than you’d like to see. Still, he’s trending in the right direction and is going to have a huge test with this young Braves lineup.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Teheran looked like one of the more exciting young pitchers in the game and he was a common hypothetical trade target of the Red Sox. His velocity is way down, however, and the numbers have reflected that. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up and all of that has led to a 4.17 ERA, a 4.97 FIP and a 4.85 DRA. Teheran gives up a lot of fly balls, and that can be very dangerous for him given his new and lowered velocity. He’s also coming off a couple of rough outings in which he’s allowed ten runs in eleven innings, and the Red Sox will look to continue that trend. Teheran throws two fastballs that are both sitting in the high-80s to low-90s range right now along with a slider.

5/26: Drew Pomeranz vs. Sean Newcomb, 1:05 PM ET

Pomeranz had his last start that was scheduled for Thursday pushed back a couple days to get him to work out some of his mechanical issues. It’s clear that something is not right with the lefty, as we talked about earlier this week. His velocity is down, he’s not using his secondaries beyond his curveball and his command has been awful. Something has to give soon, but Pomeranz continues to insist that he feels fine physically and that it’s just a matter of figuring out a hitch in his mechanics. Whatever the issue is, if it’s not figured out in time for this outing the Braves have enough talent in their lineup to take quick advantage of a lesser version of Pomeranz.

Newcomb is a former top prospect and one of the best young arms in the Braves organization who also happens to be a Massachusetts native. Born in Brockton, the righty made his major-league debut last season and looking....solid. There are some definite issues here and he has a tendency to lose the strike zone for periods of time. When he has some semblance of control, though, Newcomb can be hard to beat as the 24-year-old misses bats fairly frequently and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground and limiting damage. He’s currently on a hell of a run through the month of May, pitching to a 0.36 ERA over four starts and 25 innings with 24 strikeouts and ten walks. The Red Sox will look to prove this was more about level of competition than anything else. Newcomb throws a mid-90s fastball along with a changeup and a curveball.

5/27: Chris Sale vs. Mike Foltynewicz, 1:05 PM ET

Sunday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. There’s really not much new to add to Sale beyond what we’ve been talking about all year. He’s still putting up dominant numbers while not feeling quite as sharp as he was last year, which is somehow both mildly concerning and pretty encouraging. Either way, he’s getting at least nine strikeouts every time out and really not allowing a lot of damage, plus he was consistently hitting 97-98 mph from the jump last time out.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Foltynewicz has always felt like he should be better than he’s proven to be over his major-league career with his big fastball than never really resulted in huge strikeout rates. That’s changing this year, as he’s pitched to a 2.72 ERA with more than ten strikeouts per nine innings. However, it’s not clear how much of that is sustainable. Control issues are hurting his peripherals with a 3.46 FIP and a 4.49 DRA, and his swinging strike rate has increased by as much as his strikeout rate could indicate. Still, the results have been there and he’s allowed just one earned run over his last three outings combined, so something is working here. Foltynewicz features a four-seam and two-seam fastball, both of which sit in the mid-to-high-90s, along with a slider.

Old Friends

Anibal Sanchez was once one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox farm system, but he was part of the Josh Beckett deal over a decade ago. Since then, his career got off to a strong start with the Marlins before quickly falling off with the Tigers in recent years. He’s made three solid appearances for the Braves this year but is now on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

Notable Position Players

Ronald Acuña was the top prospect in baseball heading into the season and he’s done nothing to change anyone’s mind that he is the complete package. The outfielder is among the most exciting players in the game right now, though there are some holes in his swing that can be exposed if he’s handled correctly.

Ozzie Albies is the best young player on the Braves right now even if Acuña gets more attention. The second baseman has been a force in his second taste of major-league ball, making plenty of contact and hitting for a ton of power despite a small frame. He also adds value with the glove and with his legs.

Freddie Freeman is still the face of this Braves lineup and one of the best overall hitters in the game. Freeman does it all, hitting for average, hitting for power and walking almost as much as he strikes out. There aren’t many more consistent .300/.400/.500 threats in the game.

Nick Markakis is inexplicably looking like one of the best hitters in baseball right now with solid power, more walks than strikeouts and tremendous success on balls in play. It can’t keep up. It just can’t.

Ender Inciarte hasn’t done much at the plate this year but he’ll always be able to provide some value with his glove in center field and his legs on the bases.

Tyler Flowers is one of the best framing catchers in all of baseball and he’s turned himself into a plus at the plate as well thanks to some near-elite on-base skills.

Dansby Swanson is the former number one overall pick who hasn’t quite lived up to the hype for the Braves since they acquired him in Shelby Miller deals that could still go down as one of the most lopsided trades of all time.

Johan Camargo is yet another young hitter who is off to a hot start, but his looks less sustainable than that of Acuña and Albies.

Bullpen Snapshot

Arodys Vizcaino is the Braves closer and while he’s not quite an elite arm and will have some control issues here and there, he also has the talent to go on runs and completely shut down any lineup late in games. It’s hit or miss here, and the Red Sox will be hoping for some misses.

A.J. Minter has taken some save chances as well, though after the young lefty blew everyone away with his strikeout numbers last year he’s been much less impressive in 2018.

Shane Carle and Dan Winkler are the two primary righty-handed setup men for the Braves, with Carle being the weak contact arm and Winkler being the strikeout force.

Injuries

Sanchez, as mentioned above, is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

Mike Soroka is the best young pitcher for the Braves right now, but he’s currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. The good news for Atlanta is that it doesn’t appear to be serious and he should be back shortly after this series.

Jose Ramirez got off to a rough start as Vizcaino’s primary setup man and has been on the disabled list with a shoulder injury since mid-April.

Grant Dayton showed big flashes out of the Dodgers bullpen a couple years ago, but he underwent Tommy John surgery late last summer and looks likely to miss this entire season.

Jacob Lindgren is a former Yankee prospect who has dealt with injuries his whole career and is set to miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Weather Forecast

The first couple of games for this weekend series look great. Friday is going to be possibly the nicest day of the year so far in New England with mid-80s temperatures in Boston. Saturday is going to be around the same temperatures, though there is a chance that thunderstorms could have an effect on this game if it goes long enough. I’d expect them to get it in, though. Sunday’s going to be much more miserable. They should get it in, but it’s going to be cloudy, cool and dreary all day with some mist throughout the afternoon.