Wild Card Series Preview: Braves vs. Reds

Do you smell that?

No not that, you sicko.

The aroma of postseason baseball is in the air, and that’s what you were supposed to be smelling before you ruined my opening schtick.

This year, the format for the playoffs – like everything else in this oddity that is 2020 – is drastically different from years past. The tournament kicks off with eight teams in each league competing in best-of-three series at the home site of the higher seeds.

The National League side of the bracket lays out like this:

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Milwaukee Brewers

No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Reds

No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins

No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals

Now, those other three series are all wonderful and special in their own ways, but if you’re reading this site, you only care about that second one, a matchup between the Braves and the Reds.

A Brief Braves/Reds History

As many have already noted, the Reds were the Braves’ NLCS opponents when they last won the World Series back in 1995. In that series, Atlanta’s Hall of Fame pitching destroyed everyone in the Cincinnati lineup not named Barry Larkin, holding them to a series OPS of .543 and ZERO home runs.

So how will this series play out, 25 years later? (Yes, 1995 was 25 years ago.)

Let’s break down how these teams compare in the three main facets of the game. You may be thinking there’s a fourth facet, the bench bats, but I’ll sum that up quickly. Both teams will have one capable bat on the bench each night and a bunch of “meh” otherwise. It’s a tie. So let’s get to the other stuff.

Comparing Lineups

I’m not going to mince words here. The Braves, on paper and likely in reality, have an enormous advantage here.

Atlanta can put six players in a starting lineup that played most or all of the regular season and carry an OPS of at least .800. Three of those players – Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna – have an OPS of .980 or higher. Both Freeman and Ozuna finished the season with OPS marks greater than 1.000, and with both of them in the batting title hunt and Ozuna leading the league in home runs (18) and RBIS (56), cases could be made for either as NL MVP.

There is power up and down the Atlanta lineup. Five different Braves hit double-digit home runs in the 60-game season, with Dansby Swanson and Adam Duvall joining the three aforementioned stars. Additionally, Travis D’Arnaud (9) and Austin Riley (8) hit enough homers to be on a 20-homer pace for a full season.

This comes with a caveat, though. While the Reds don’t have the numbers the Braves do, with just two or three regulars clearing the .800 line in OPS, they do have four players in the mix with double-digit home runs. A couple more would be on that 20-homer pace. This effort is led by Eugenio Suarez, whose 15 homers include 10 away from Great American Ballpark. This visiting team can still rake at times.

Advantage: Braves

Comparing Starting Rotations

Listen, I don’t need to tell you that the starting rotation has been an issue for the Braves this year. The much-maligned group has seen 14 men start a game, with several who pitched multiple games and were removed due to ineffectiveness.

The good news is that the top of the rotation has settled out nicely for Atlanta at the perfect time. If Max Fried is truly recovered from some injury issues, he’s as formidable a No. 1 as you’ll find, posting a 7-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.089 WHIP over 11 starts this season. Follow that up with Ian Anderson, who has a stellar 1.95 ERA in six starts, and the new version of Kyle Wright, who has covered 19 innings with a 2.37 ERA and allowed a .164 average in his last three starts, and the Braves are in much better shape than we thought they’d be.

Perhaps unfortunately for Atlanta, this is the Reds’ strongest suit this season. Game 1 will go to Trevor Bauer, who posted a 1.73 ERA and 0.795 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 11 starts this season. That ERA drops to 1.35 away from the Reds’ hitter-friendly home ballpark. Behind him will be Luis Castillo (3.21 ERA, 1.229 WHIP) and Sonny Gray (3.70, 1.214), and if any of them struggle, fourth starter Tyler Mahle (3.59, 1.154) is likely an option. Further, all four of them struck out at least 11 batters per nine innings this year.

This area is not near the death sentence for the Braves that it might have been a couple weeks ago, but it’s certainly not a strength.

Advantage: Reds

Comparing Bullpens

This would be an easy category to just write over to the Braves immediately, and for good reason.

The Braves have eight relief options – Mark Melancon, Grant Dayton, Shane Greene, A.J. Minter, Grant Dayton, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day and Jacob Webb – that have pitched at least 10 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA. That doesn’t include Will Smith, who has been much better of late. Martin left Sunday’s game with a groin injury, but there are lots of good options there. Perhaps most notably, Minter gave up just two earned runs and struck out 24 batters in 21 2/3 innings this year.

Simply put, the Braves’ bullpen is absolutely loaded with reliable options, but the Reds are not hurting in the relief department.

Frankly, Cincinnati hasn’t had to cover as many bullpen innings as Atlanta has, so they only have seven “at least 10 innings” options total outside of their rotation. That number is eight if you include Wade Miley, who finished the year in the bullpen after a stint in the rotation.

Either way, four of them have sub-3.oo ERAs for this season, and closer Raisel Iglesias posted a 2.74 ERA with a 0.913 WHIP with 31 strikeouts in 23 innings. The Reds also added Archie Bradley in a trade deadline deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and all he did was put up a 1.17 ERA and a 0.522 WHIP in 7 2/3 innings for Cincinnati.

I think Atlanta is still the better overall group, but it probably won’t be easy to tack on runs late against the Reds, either.

Advantage: Braves

Overall

Let me say up front that I’m not going to make a series prediction here. Honestly, if I did, most of you wouldn’t like it. So maybe I sort of did make a series prediction, actually.

On paper, I think the Braves are the better team and should win the series if they can get quality starts from their rotation. The bats are superior, even though the Reds’ staff will be tough to score against at every point of every game. Atlanta has done well against good pitching this year, and it would be reasonable to expect that to continue.

But what we’ve seen over the last almost two decades is that it frequently doesn’t matter what happens on paper. This matchup is much closer than a No. 2 vs. No. 7 playoff matchup has any right to be, and it will be a difficult one for the Braves to win.

That is especially true if ghosts of postseasons past continue to haunt Atlanta. Let’s hope that isn’t the case.

35 thoughts on “Wild Card Series Preview: Braves vs. Reds”

  1. If we win game one, we are looking really good with Ian on a short leash if necessary handing over to the bullpen to shut the Cardinals down. Braves in two.

  2. Bauer, Castillo and Gray = 34 starts this season. 26 (76%) of them against teams in the bottom 8 of MLB in OPS v RHP (5xPIT, 5xDET, 8xMIL, 3xSTL, 2xCLE, 3xKCR).

    3-5 team record in the other 8 games they started (5xCHC, 2xMIN, 1xCHW).

  3. Donaldson is not on the Twins roster. I was mad at the time, but AA looks smart, and even smarter with how Ozuna performed.

  4. @5

    Taxi!!

    That’s the only squad where they want him, as near as he is allowed to get. 20 plus million, multi year i think, 2 home runs this year @.232. We were so lucky. BUST.

  5. @5, I haven’t kept up with Donaldson at all this year. With Ozuna raking, he hasn’t crossed my mind at all. Wow! I just looked up his stats for the year: .222, 6 hr, 11rbi in only 28 games played. We really dodged a bullet there.

  6. I’ll go Braves in 3.

    BTW, Braves haven’t announced a Game 2 starter.

    My guess is that if the Braves win Game 1, Wright could start Game 2. Maybe Snit has more confidence with Ian in a loser-go-home Game 3… and maybe he should.

  7. @4 Those are some of the most interesting stats; their starters are definitely great, but werent really tested by a good offense often.
    Reds in 3, sadly. Hope I’m wrong.

  8. Gotta get there first… & really only the Game 1 pitcher of the next round would get 2 starts anyway — and that would be on 3-days’ rest.

    Also, remember, there’s a 4-day break btw rounds 1 & 2 — 5 days if you clinch in 2.

    So, if you pitch Ian in Game 3 of the WC series, he’s still lined up for Game 2 of the next round on regular rest. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

  9. There were 10 players that were recalled from the alt-site, likely part of the 40 that’s added to the player pool for the postseason. Those players:

    Cristian Pache
    Tommy Millone (ugh)
    Patrick Weigel
    Johan Camargo
    Alex Jackson
    Jasseel De La Cruz
    Sean Newcomb
    William Contreras
    Touki Toussaint
    Chad Sobotka

    IMO Contreras, Pache, and Camargo are the only real candidates to get a crack at the actual postseason roster and I sure do hope all 3 make it in place of Hech, Ender, and Luke Jackson.

  10. I’m scared of jinxing the Braves, but while we certainly have the ability to lose to teams of any level of quality, the Reds just don’t impress me. Great rotation, but their lineup is truly putrid. They’ve been trying to rebuild for the last several years, they’ve made a ton of really questionable deals, and they have lost a ton of games.

    Since 2014, they are 449-583: that’s a .435 winning percentage.
    Since 2018, they are 241-305: that’s a .441 winning percentage.
    Since last year, they are 106-116: that’s a .477 winning percentage.

    (Oh, yeah, and in a total of 129 1/3 innings in a Cincinnati uniform, Trevor Bauer has an ERA of 3.76. He’s been incredible this year — 1.73 ERA in 73 innings — and sucked last year, with a 6.39 ERA in 56 1/3 innings.)

    So yeah, the Reds are on the upswing, but they’ve risen all the way from putridity to mediocrity.

    Our guys could treat the Reds like the Red Sox and lay down kindly to allow them to walk all over us. And obviously, in four decades of life, I still haven’t learned what it is that makes a team good at the regular season and bad at the postseason, but that’s likely still us. However, all in all, other than starting pitching, our team is more talented than theirs. If our starters give up fewer than five runs a game, I feel pretty good about our chances, no matter what the experts say.

  11. I’m going to say Braves in 3. They’ll scare the hell out of us after losing the first game and then roar back in the next two with huge games. I’ll also predict that it will be heart attack inducing to many.

  12. It’s taken ’em 15 years, but the White Sox are good for the first time since Ozzie.

  13. OK, no doubt that we’ve had more than our share of recent post-season trouble… but the Minnesota Twins have now lost 17 consecutive post-season games. That’s almost unfathomable.

  14. Not to bring up the ghosts of postseasons past, but in their current 0-10 postseason round losing streak one thing has been constant: they’ve lost Game 1 each time.

    Man, it would be nice to get a game 1 win.

  15. Those who think having an ace start for you is all you need should consider Cy Bieber this evening: 4 2/3 9 hits, 7 runs.

    In other words: crapshoot.

  16. @27 – Or, you could look at the excellent games pitched by Cole, Snell, Giolito, and Maeda. Nobody is saying an ace is all you need, but it sure helps.

  17. I don’t think of Maeda as an “ace”; I think he’s more evidence for the idea that sometimes an ace pitches like an ace, sometimes an ace pitches like a regular joe, and sometimes a regular joe pitches like an ace.

    I wish our rotation was as good as the Reds rotation, but we’ve often done very well against a lot of flamethrowing aces, like Scherzer and Strasburg. The guys who kill us, often as not, are the junkballing journeymen who pull our bats down to the level.

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