Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: White Sox 60-73   Braves 81-54

GAMETIMES: Friday/Saturday 6:20,  Sunday 4:10

TV: NBCSN Friday/Saturday, WGN Sunday

PROBABLY NOT AT THE GOLD CLUB: Talkin’ Chop

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Braves Spotlight

Atlanta in late August wouldn’t be high up the list of places you want to be at this time, but the schedule says the Sox have to descend on the Dirty South. There they’ll get a look at the NL’s second-best team, the Atlanta Braves, and maybe a glimpse at what they hope to be in a year or two’s time.

The Braves have been able to hold off the Nationals’ lava-streak since the middle of May at arm’s length, still maintaining a 5.5-game lead in the NL East. They haven’t been under threat since they themselves turned it on all the way up, in May just like DC. They’ve gone 67-39 since May 1st, after a ho-hum April opening to the season. It’s truly impressive as the Braves don’t get to harvest on the organs of a weak division like the Dodgers do or teams in the AL. The East has four playoff contenders, even if the Phillies and Mets are flawed remain decidedly the Phillies and Mets. And the Braves just got done sweeping the Mets in Queens to exhibit that, which apparently is the hot new trend in the NL. And we’d better get used to this, because the Braves don’t look poised to go much of anywhere else anytime soon.

This is a blistering offense, but most of it is in the top half of the lineup. Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson toss you right into the deep end from the off, but there isn’t much behind that. Austin Riley briefly flashed, but then fizzled and then got hurt. Dansby Swanson has missed a chunk of time and has only been average when he has suited up. Nick Markakis hasn’t been able to back up his All-Star season from last and now finds himself on the IL, and Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are around more for their defense. It’s Elvira top-heavy, though Matt Joyce of late has tried to remedy that.

The rotation isn’t going to wow anyone. Mike Soroka has been really good while doing it through ground-balls and control instead of the Fascist route of strikeouts. Max Fried has the stuff to do a lot better than a 4.08 ERA, but has had home-run problems thanks to a near-20% HR/FB rate. Dallas Keuchel has seemingly gotten around his delayed start to the season thanks to MLB owners’ cheapness, and still gets a ton of grounders (60.7%). But he too has had his home run issues. Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are something of place-holders. It’s not what you’d guess a rotation looks like for a team running away with a very competitive division.

The pen needed some reshaping midseason, which is why they went out and got Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. Both have had their issues since arriving, though Melancon’s numbers are skewed by one ugly outing and has mostly been really good. Greene has some issues to work out still. The rest of the pen isn’t filled with too many names you know, though Sean Newcomb has been placed here after being replaced in the rotation and definitely has the stuff to be a dominating reliever.

If everything goes to plan, the White Sox will want a similar offense behind Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, and Madrigal next season. They have the makings of a more useful rotation than the Braves have gotten, but if you have this man fireworks at the top of the lineup your rotation only needs to achieve “not fucking it up.”

The Sox just got done getting brained by one first place team. They’d like to avoid spending the weekend doing the same against another.

 

Baseball

There’s a theory floating around these days that the peak of a baseball player’s career is sliding up from 29 or 30 to 27 or so. It’s part of the reason you see more players getting called up earlier than before. The Braves themselves have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in the every day lineup, and they were up at 20 or 21. Austin Riley is the most recent addition this season, and he’s 22. But Freddie Freeman doesn’t seem to care at age 29, as he’s having his best season.

Freeman is on his way to a career-high in homers, as he’s got 21 already and that number is 34. He has his second-highest batting average, best on-base, and by far his best slugging. The latter might be helped by the baseballs hopped up on goofballs this year, but hey, everyone’s playing with the same ball.

How’s Freeman doing it? Well he’s not getting particularly lucky, as he’s always been a line-drive hitter who runs a hot BABIP and this season is no different. Still, Freeman is rocking a 52.7% hard-contact rate, the highest of his career by a mile and only bested by resident alien Cody Bellinger. If you’re going by Statcast, his barrel rate is a career-high and his exit velocity is the highest of his career as well. So why is Freeman suddenly hitting the ball so hard?

Well, he’s being pickier than in a long while. He’s swinging at just 52.1% of the pitches he’s seen, the lowest since 2015. He’s not chasing out of the zone, as he’s swing-rate at pitches out of the zone is the second-lowest of his career. If he’s only sticking to strikes, that’s a lot more pitches he’s going to turn into his patented liner.

Freeman has also been murder on curveballs this year, hitting them to the tune of .427, though not for much power.

Freeman has been much better at the top of the zone this year. Here’s proof:

Which doesn’t leave pitchers a lot of places to go on Freeman.

All of it leaves Freeman on course for his highest WAR season, which is 6.0 a few years ago and he’s already at 3.2 before the break. It’s going to be hard for him to get MVP consideration considering what Yelich and Bellinger is doing, and 1st basemen tend to get punished by the defensive metrics. Still, he’s a major weapon in the Braves lineup which needs it. Albies has struggled, and Donaldson only got going in the last couple weeks (after yours truly turned down a trade for him in his fantasy league, natch).

But with Freeman mashing and the pitching staff nails, it’s been enough for the Braves to surge to the top of the division and open up some distance for a second-straight playoff appearance. Freeman has always made a great comparison with Anthony Rizzo, and funny enough they’ll both hit the free agent market in 2021. Wonder if the Cubs and Braves will be waiting for each other to figure out those markets.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 1-2   Braves 0-3

GAMETIMES: Monday 6:10, Wednesday and Thursday 6:20

TV: NBCSN+ Chicago Monday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

DIRTY SOUTH TAKE: Talking Chop

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kyle Hendricks vs. Sean Newcomb

Jon Lester vs. Julio Teheran

Yu Darvish vs. Max Fried

Probable Cubs Lineup

1. Albert Almora Jr. (R) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Javier Baez (R) SS
6. David Bote (R) 2B
7. Ben Zobrist (S) LF (Schwaber against the righty Teheran)
8. Jason Heyward (L) RF
Probably Braves Lineup
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Josh Donaldson (R) 3B
3. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
4. Ronald Acuna Jr. (R) LF
5. Nick Markakis (L) RF
6. Ozzie Albies (S) 2B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
The apparent circus that the Cubs are going to be all season rolls into the ATL tonight, towing the collective raging angina of the fanbase. Just about everything you didn’t want to see go wrong for the Cubs did in Texas, and that’s going to prevent exactly no one from using two games as a symbol for what the whole season will be and as impetus to demonstrate how outraged they can be. If you’re already tired, I don’t blame you. This season has every chance of being The Unblinking Eye for merely the noise around it, not even what’s happening on the field.
Freshly inked Kyle Hendricks (contract, not tattoos, but wouldn’t that be something?) will make his season debut tonight, and seems to be about the only sure-thing on the Cubs. It might fly in the face of modern pitching thinking, but Hendricks is just going to roll up with those hangdog shoulders, his kid-being-forced-to-eat-vegetables expression, and outthink and out-craft lineups pretty much every start.
Thanks to Jose Quintana‘s rescue of Yu Darvish on Saturday, his first start of the season won’t come until the weekend, so Lester and Darvish will remain on regular rest. Darvish has some work to do to earn trust, where his picky, corner-seeking, possibly afraid-of-contact ways will have to be shelved in order for outs. We already did the Chatwood thing and don’t feel the need to relive it.
And the bullpen…you know what? Let’s just not right now.
To Atlanta, who spent their first weekend of the season getting giggy-stuffed by the Phillies in Philadelphia. Not exactly the time you wanted to catch the Fightin’s, with the whole buzz thing going on there. Anyway, this is their home-opener. Considering the Phillies’ splash, the Nationals signing Corbin and being spurned, and the Mets doing Mets things that always gets amplified, you might have forgotten it was the Braves who won this division last year. And this is still last year’s team with Josh Donaldson added to it, essentially.
What the perpetually red-assed Donaldson is anymore is the question. He has had serious injury problems the past two years, but at least flashed his old self in Cleveland for the season’s last six weeks. Then again, he’s only two years removed from a 5-WAR season in Toronto, and three removed from a 7-WAR one. The calf problems he battled are ones you’d like to think he can get past. It’s the shoulder ones that kept him out of the field for long stretches that are worrisome, and knocked nearly 100 points off his slugging last year.
Still, if they can get 75% of what Donaldson used to be, and add that to Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, that’s a hell of a base. Brian McCann will be around to make sure no one has any fun. Markakis had a career season in his mid-30s, and then fell victim to baseball’s war on money for anyone who doesn’t own a team. Inciarte catches everything.
Maybe it’s the rotation that keeps people from getting back to the Braves as the pick to repeat in the East. It’s a little pedestrian, at least until some kids pop. Sean Newcomb walks too many guys. Mike Foihaldkhalns is battling elbow-twang. Julio Teheran missed his window on being something other than “a guy.” Kyle Wright, and especially Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint are the hopes to come up and make it something more.
The pen is also looking more functional than inspirational, with near-Cub Arodys Vizcaino the closer and Chad Sobotka, Jonny Venters and his arm made of puddy at this point, and Not Rocky Biddle forming the hub of it. Again, the kids could be used here later in the year to give it more muscle. Max Fried, who starts the last game, could be someone who does that as well.
The Cubs could use some easy wins after the past two games. Sadly, the Braves aren’t pushovers. Your fatigue will probably last.