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Red Sox vs. Braves Series Preview

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A look at this week’s three-game set against the Braves

New York Yankees v Atlanta Braves - Game One Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Talking Chop

The opponent in one sentence

The Braves are looking for their second straight NL East title and are currently sitting in first place in their division on the backs of a potent offense.

Record

19-14

Head-to-head record

0-0

Trend

Neutral. The Braves are sort of treading water of late, which is basically all they need to do in a division with a lot of teams that can’t seem to get any momentum going. They are coming off a victory on Sunday in a wild game against the Phillies to avoid a sweep. Overall, they are 6-4 in their last ten.

Pitching Matchups

8/31: Colten Brewer vs. Max Fried, 7:30 PM ET

Brewer has somewhat improbably become an important member of this Red Sox pitching staff, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. For this series opener on Monday the righty is set his third straight start and his fourth over his last five appearances. After looking very good against the Orioles a couple of starts ago, Brewer struggled his last time out. The righty allowed four runs to the Blue Jays over 3 23 innings including three homers. This is a very good Braves lineup he’s facing, so he’ll have to keep the ball in the yard to have any chance at success.

Fried has emerged as the best pitcher in a Braves rotation that has been hit hard with injury, putting together a very impressive 2020. His strikeout rate is down a bit this year, but he’s controlling the strike zone and keeping the ball on the ground, leading the righty lefty to a 1.35 ERA on the year. Part of that is due to the fact that he has yet to allow a home run this year, which can’t continue by the laws of nature, but his ground ball rate and general approach does lend itself to a low home run rate. Fried has yet to allow more than two runs in any of his seven outings so far this season, and he only allowed that many in his first start of the year. Over the last six, he’s allowed one or zero runs in every outing. The righty lefty will throw a fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range along with a slider and a curveball.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

9/1: TBD vs. Ian Anderson, 7:30 PM ET

The Red Sox have not announced a starter on their website for the Tuesday night game yet, which is a bit interesting. This had been Kyle Hart’s spot in the rotation, but the rookie has continued to struggle in all of his chances. There’s no official word that they are ready to pull the plug on him this year right now, but it seems they’re at least considering it. My guess is he’ll get this start just because the team has a doubleheader on Friday so they already need a spot starter, but keep an eye on this one. Maybe this is when we’ll see Nick Pivetta or Tanner Houck for the first time this year.

Anderson is a long-time top 100 prospect (he was a consensus top 100 name for four years in a row) who just made his major-league debut the last turn through the rotation. The big righty did well in that start, too, throwing six innings of one-run ball with one hit (a home run), two walks and six strikeouts against the Yankees. Anderson’s profile was pretty clear throughout his time in the minors, carrying with him big stuff that can miss a lot of bats but also issues with control. The Red Sox should try to be patient in this one and make the rookie come to them before they start swinging. Anderson offers a mid-90s fastball along with a changeup and a curveball.

9/2: Martín Pérez vs. Robbie Erlin, 7:30 PM ET

Pérez had been one of the rare success stories on the Red Sox pitching staff heading into his last start, and was setting himself up to be a potential trade chip for this team at the deadline. Then, he made his last start against the Nationals and that narrative started to flip. The lefty was absolutely shelled on Friday, giving up six runs on eight hits over just three innings of work. He needs batted ball luck to have success, which makes any of his starts a coin flip. This one would seemingly be no different.

The Braves have been scrambling for pitching help for most of this season, and Erlin was a waiver wire pickup from earlier this month. The former Padre has made four appearances (three starts) for Atlanta this year, and has struggled to the tune of a 6.14 ERA. His strikeout and walk numbers don’t look too bad, but he’s allowed six homers in just 14 23 innings. If he can keep the ball in the yard against the Red Sox it may be a frustrating night, but with the way Boston ended the series against the Nationals there are some signs this lineup is ready to heat up. Erlin will feature a high-80s fastball along with a curveball and a changeup.

Old Friends

Mark Melancon came to the Red Sox back before the 2012 season in the deal that sent Jed Lowrie to Houston. Melancon spent one very disappointing season in Boston and will now be remembered as the main player traded away in the deal that brought Brock Holt to the Red Sox.

Notable Position Players

Ronald Acuña is not only the face of the Braves but one of the young faces of the next generation of MLB superstars. A true five-tool player, Acuña burst onto the scene with a huge rookie year in 2019 and has continued to show off his big power in 2020. However, he left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and his status for this series as of this writing is still unclear.

Freddie Freeman is somehow underrated despite being one of the very best hitters in baseball year after year. To put it simply, he’s just very good at everything, and this year is no different as he hits for big power while walking more than he strikes out.

Marcell Ozuna was the big addition to the lineup over the offseason and it’s a move that has paid off thus far as Ozuna’s power and on-base skills have made him a major threat in the middle of this lineup.

Dansby Swanson has stepped up at the top of the lineup in the absence of Ozzie Albies as the former number one overall pick has worked around rough strikeout and walk numbers to just hit the ball hard en route to a 122 wRC+.

Travis d’Arnaud is having a very similar season as Swanson as the primary catcher for this Braves team.

Nick Markakis had originally opted out of this season but decided to come back in the middle of the year and has raked to a 157 wRC+ in his 17 games so far this year.

Adam Duvall is a lefty-masher who has been playing an everyday role and has struggled with an 85 wRC+ this season.

Austin Riley is a prospect with big power, but his strikeout rate has held him back early in his career.

Johan Camargo has been Atlanta’s worst player this year with a 59 wRC+ thanks to a big strikeout rate to go with a low BABIP.

Bullpen Snapshot

Melancon serves as the Braves closer but is very out of place in that role relative to expectations from modern closers. He hardly strikes anyone out (just four per nine innings so far this year) and instead relies on grounders and weak contact to finish out victories.

Shane Greene and Chris Martin are the two late-inning righties this team leans on, and the former is another low-strikeout, contact-oriented pitcher while the latter misses a few more bats but still relies on control over stuff.

Will Smith was a big signing this winter and is their top lefty, but he’s struggled mightily to start this season.

Injuries

Ozzie Albies has missed most of the season with a wrist injury. He’s nearing a return, but it won’t be in time for this series.

Mike Soroka came into the season as the Braves ace, but he tore his Achilles early in the year and will miss the rest of the year.

Cole Hamels has missed the whole season with a triceps injury and it looks like he may not be able to return at all in 2020.

Jeremy Walker has been out all year with a shoulder injury and will likely miss the whole season.

Jacob Webb has also been out all year with a shoulder injury, and it’s still unclear if he’ll make it back at some point in September.

Phillip Pfeifer has misssed the whole season with an elbow injury and likely won’t pitch in 2020.

Weather Forecast

Right now it looks like they should get all of these games in without any issue.