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Red Sox at Braves Series Preview

This is it!

Atlanta Braves v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Talking Chop

The opponent in one sentence

The Braves are once again at the top of the NL East and have clinched that spot, giving them very little to play for this weekend beyond seeding, which in and of itself doesn’t appear to matter all that much in the NL.

Record

34-23

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 0, Braves 3

Trend

Up. The Braves are playing some of their best baseball over the last couple of weeks at exactly the right time. Atlanta finished up their quest for the division against the Marlins earlier this week, and overall they have won 10 of their last 15 games.

Pitching Matchups

9/25: Chris Mazza vs. Kyle Wright, 7:10 PM ET

For the most part, the last couple of weeks have seen the Red Sox putting together the closest thing they’ve had resembling a viable rotation. Mazza is the last remnant of the time before that. That is not to dunk too hard on the righty, because he has been pretty solid at times and among the swinging door of Quad-A long relief arms making starts, he’s probably been my favorite. Over 25 innings this year he’s pitched to a 5.40 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks. He has, to his credit, largely avoided complete implosions, instead consistently giving up a few runs over four or five innings when he gets to start. It’s not what you want and he shouldn’t be getting starts next season if all goes well, but in a year like this we know it can get worse than that.

This is the only announced starter for the Braves in this series as of this writing on Friday morning. Wright is a former top five pick who is starting to get his first consistent run in the majors. Things have not exactly gone smoothly for the young righty. Wright has pitched to an ugly 5.74 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 21 walks over 31 13 innings of work. He has been better of late in his last couple of starts, to be fair, including six shutout innings his last time out against the Mets. This will be the second time the Red Sox have faced him, as he tossed two scoreless innings in relief back in 2018 in his major-league debut. Wright will feature a pair of mid-90s fastballs along with a slider, a changeup and a curveball.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

9/26: Tanner Houck vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET

The good news for the end of this terrible season is that we get to see a pair of reasonably exciting starting pitchers on the mound for the final two games. The first of them is Tanner Houck, who has been a revelation in two major-league starts. Clearly we’re not going to read too much into a pair of outings, but at the same time it’s all we have to judge on. One of them came against the Yankees, too, so it hasn’t been a cupcake schedule even with a few regulars sitting for that game. His slider has been wildly impressive, but I’ll be looking to see how he does against a loaded Braves lineup, and specifically how he approaches Freddie Freeman, one of the best left-handed hitters in the game.

The Braves have nothing to play for, so there’s a chance they just get weird with their pitching and give them a rest. If they stick with their rotation, this would be Huscar Ynoa’s turn. The 22-year-old righty has pitched to a 5.82 ERA over 21 23 innings with 17 strikeouts and 13 walks. He’s largely a two-pitch pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a slider. He will throw a changeup from time to time as well.

9/27: Nick Pivetta vs. TBD, 3:10 PM ET

Pivetta has even fewer starts in a Red Sox uniform than Houck under his belt, though he obviously has much more major-league experience. And while his first career start was very impressive, this is going to be a very interesting one to watch. I suspect the Braves will sit most of their best players, but at the same time this is an NL East team and that’s the division from which Pivetta came. They are familiar with him. I’m interested to see if Atlanta can punish his mistakes more than Baltimore did as well as to see if he throws his slider more than the curveball or if that was a one-off thing. There are legitimate reasons to be happy about what we saw from Pivetta in his debut with the team, but I’m fascinated by what we may see on Sunday.

Again, no idea what Atlanta’s plan is here. If they do stick with the rotation, Bryse Wilson would get the start. He has pitched to a 4.26 ERA over 12 23 innings with 13 strikeouts and seven walks.

Old Friends

Mark Melancon has had a very strange career in that he has mostly been good with really just one bad year that sticks out like a sore thumb. It just so happens that year came in Boston. The good news is the trade that sent him to Pittsburgh brought Brock Holt to the Sox.

Notable Position Players

Ronald Acuña Jr. is, to put it simply, on the short list of most exciting players in baseball who was on the IL the last time these two teams met. He burst onto the scene as a rookie a couple years ago, followed it up with another very good year in 2019, and then has been great again in 2020. He’ll strike out a bit more than you’d like, but he also draws a ton of walks, hits for big power and provides real value on the bases.

Freddie Freeman doesn’t get nearly enough respect as one of the very best hitters in all of baseball. He doesn’t really jump off the page in any one area, but he’s outstanding across the board and just consistently produces. He has a 183 wRC+ this season, which is bananas, and he hasn’t been below 130 since 2012.

Marcell Ozuna introduced himself to Red Sox fans pretty well the last time these teams met. He’s a massive power hitter who is going to be terrifying every time he steps into the box.

Ozzie Albies, like Acuña, was out for the last series between these clubs. He’s another very exciting young player who doesn’t draw a ton of walks but he makes a lot of contact and it’s often with authority.

Travis d’Arnaud has been one of the best hitting catchers in the game for a couple years now. This year he’s been outstanding with a 147 wRC+, though that’s boosted in a big way by a .406 batting average in balls in play.

Adam Duvall also destroyed the Red Sox earlier this year, putting up one of this two three-homer games of the season.

Nick Markakis originally opted out of this season before changing his mind a few weeks in. He’s struggled to get things going, though.

Dansby Swanson isn’t the superstar many hoped he’d be when he was selected first overall (and subsequently traded to Atlanta in one of the worst trades of all time), but he’s been very good for Atlanta this year, particularly holding things down at the top of the lineup when Albies and Acuña were out.

Austin Riley brings big power, but also struggles to get on base. He’s also been out the last couple days, so his status heading into this series is unclear.

Bullpen Snapshot

Melancon, discussed above, is the Braves closer. He’s not the typical modern closer who relies on strikeouts, instead limiting his walks and giving up a lot of weak ground balls to get his outs.

Shane Greene and Chris Martin are the top two set up men in this bullpen, with the former pitching a lot like Melancon and the latter bring a more traditional late-inning arm.

Will Smith was a big free agent addition and is the top lefty in this bullpen, those he’s had some issues with the long ball this year.

Injuries

Mike Soroka was supposed to be the staff ace this year, but he suffered a torn Achilles early in the season and had his 2020 campaign cut short. The righty is hoping to be back at full strength for the start of next year.

Cole Hamels missed most of the season before coming back about a week ago, but after two short starts he’s back on the IL and his 2020 season is over.

Tommy Milone was Atlanta’s “big” trade deadline acquisition, and now he’s elbow inflammation and he may not be able to return for October.

Phillip Pfeifer went on the IL with an elbow contusion at the end of camp and hasn’t been able to return.

Jeremy Walker also hit the IL at the end of camp, though his was a shoulder issue, and isn’t likely to come back before 2021.

Weather Forecast

There is going to be rain in the area on both Friday and Sunday down in Atlanta. Things should clear up in time for tonight’s game, but the season finale could at least suffer some delays due to thunder storms in the afternoon.