If the season ended today, the Braves and Phillies would make the MLB postseason, while the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals would not. While the season is still very young, I’m not sure many would have predicted these National League standings on May 23. Just for fun, take a look at these current wildly unexpected NL playoff matchups:
- Brewers vs. Rockies
- Braves vs. winner of Phillies/Cardinals
The only one of those five teams that made the playoffs in 2017 lost in the wild-card game (Rockies).
Regardless of the result Wednesday, Atlanta will leave the City of Brotherly Love in first place in the NL East, but Philly can get within a half-game of the division lead with a series win. Let’s take a closer look at the matchup by focusing on both starters and an absolutely stunning Braves trend. Let’s get into it.
Atlanta Braves (+115) at Philadelphia Phillies (-125) | O/U: 8.5
Luiz Gohara (0-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3-2, 2.82 ERA)
7:05 p.m. ET
The Pitching Pride of Sao Paulo, Brazil: MLB.com ranks Gohara as the 45th-best prospect in baseball, thanks to a 70-grade fastball (a solid score on the 20-80 scale that scouts use) and a 60-grade slider. He has exceptional velocity (between 95 and 98 mph) on his fastball and solid bite on his slider. The big Brazilian will be tough to hit when he’s on.
As bright as Gohara’s prospect light shines, he isn’t there yet and still has control issues. Considering the fact that he’s also not stretched out and still needs to further develop his third pitch — an improving changeup — I wouldn’t expect the young southpaw to flip the order over more than once. Thus, the Braves’ bullpen will need to do some heavy lifting against the Phillies tonight.
On the surface, it looks like Atlanta’s pen has excelled with a 3.49 ERA (ninth in MLB) and a league-best 0.62 HR/9. However, if you dig a little more deeply, you can see regression looming. Even though Atlanta plays in a hitter-friendly park, only 7.7% of fly balls have left the yard against Braves relievers this season. That’s the lowest mark in the league (the MLB average sits around 10%). Additionally, their 4.34 xFIP (a better indicator of pitching performance than ERA) ranks 24th in MLB.
What I’m trying to say is, yes, Atlanta’s pen has been good, but I wouldn’t count on these guys continuing to pitch this well over the course of the season. I’m also trying to say: Don’t just bet the Braves because you think Gohara will dominate. Don’t expect much length out of the kid. — Michael Leboff
Just to give some additional background on Gohara, he has allowed only two hits and two walks in seven relief innings this season. He did start five games in 2017 and went 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA. However, his best start came against the Phillies last September, when he allowed only one earned run over seven innings. He struck out nine in that game, but took the loss in a tough-luck 2-0 Braves defeat. — Stuckey
The Pitching Pride of Plano, Texas: Jake the Snake Arrieta got sort of roughed up in his last start, but that doesn’t concern me too much. He made it through only three innings against the Cardinals, allowing four runs (two earned) and striking out just one. Definitely not a great start on paper, but I believe that opened up some value for those DFS players looking for a relatively cheap arm.
Hitters have not teed off against Arrieta, and a lot of the poor production has been due to luck. In light of his monthly salary change of -$2,800 and a recent batted-ball luck score of 52, I’ve found a nice little trend on Fantasy Labs to exploit.
Pitchers with salary drops of at least $2,500 over the course of a month have a DraftKings plus/minus of +1.04. But that balloons to 3.10 when those pitchers also have a recent batted-ball luck score of 50 or greater. They’ve also been very reliable. Just check out the following consistencies.
This high consistency suggests Arrieta should be a very suitable arm in cash games. — Mark Gallant
The current Braves roster also hasn’t seen Jake very well in the past, as they have gone 8-for-47 (.170) lifetime against the Phillies right-hander. — Stuckey
Bouncing Back: Mark mentioned Arrieta’s subpar performance in his most recent start. Well, that marked just the 10th time since 2015 that Arrieta pitched four or fewer innings in a start. He has historically bounced back well in the following start, pitching nearly six innings and allowing 1.4 runs on average. — John Ewing
Fire Extinguisher: The Braves’ offense has been smoking so far this season. Atlanta averages 5.3 runs per game, which ranked fourth in baseball heading into Tuesday’s action. In Arrieta’s career, he has faced a “hot offense” (five-plus runs per game) in April or May a total of 16 times. He owns an 11-5 moneyline record in those starts, including a perfect 8-0 since 2013, winning by 4.9 runs per game. — Evan Abrams
Horseshoe Herrera: Odubel Herrera has had a helluva start to the season. On Sunday, he had his 45-game on-base streak snapped — even though he actually got on base. Baseball is weird.
ICYMI, this is how @odubelherrera1‘s on-base streak came to an end.#AtPhillies, being the rule-breakers we are, decided after much deliberation that we will not accept this. The streak is at 46* games.
We will not be taking questions. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/FtKHGBxdcJ
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 21, 2018
Herrera is hitting an NL-best .345 — only Mookie Betts can claim a higher average on the season. He also ranks in the top 10 in the NL in OPS (On-base Plus Slugging), RBI and hits. In fact, this game will feature the top four NL hit leaders.
However, don’t expect “Torito” to keep this pace up, as he has had his share of good fortune. He actually leads the NL with an unsustainable .391 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). That’s especially surprising since he has the NL’s seventh-lowest hard-hit percentage at 27.4%. — Stuckey
Finishing In Style: Atlanta has closed out series extremely well so far this year. In game 3 or later of a series, Atlanta owns a staggering 14-1 record, including 8-0 on the road. Even more impressive, it has won those games by an average of 4.2 runs per game. This is a huge change from previous seasons, as the Braves went 70-109 (39.1%) in game 3 or later of a series between 2015-17. They were the third-least profitable team during that span. The baby Braves have grown up some. — Evan Abrams
Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball Reference