The Braves return to Turner Field coming off a 3-3 road trip. Going .500 on a road trip isn’t really a problem if the Braves continue to win at the highest rate in baseball in their home games. That being said, it would be ideal if the Braves could go into the All-Star break after winning a four-game series against the Reds.
The Reds lineup is in many ways the inverse of what I described when I talked about the Braves lineup earlier this week. The Reds do not really have much balance with Joey Votto, Shin-Shoo Choo, and Jay Bruce being feared hitters but not much beyond that. Votto is arguably the best hitter in the NL with a .401 wOBA that ranks fourth in the NL and a 156 wRC+ that ranks third. Votto is extremely patient, hence his league leading walk total, but when he does swing he usually hits the ball. Choo is an extremely potent leadoff hitter getting on base at a .418 rate. Choo also walks at a high rate and has no qualms about sticking his elbow out and getting hit by a pitch. The key to stopping the Reds is keeping Choo & Votto off the bases, but of course, that’s like saying the key to stopping Wilt Chamberlain was not letting him dunk on your head for 50 points. It’s easy to say but very difficult to actually do. Bruce doesn’t have nearly the on-base skills of Votto or Choo, but he hits for power and often has runners on base to drive in.
Brandon Phillips bats cleanup for the Reds but most of his true value comes as the best defensive second basemen in baseball. Phillips doesn’t get on base at a particularly high rate and has some power but he isn’t really a hitter to be feared. Phillips has a 96 wRC+ this year showing he has been a below average hitter. Phillips reputation as a hitter hinges far more on his high RBI total but that has far more to do with batting behind Votto and Choo than it does Phillips actually being a great hitter. Todd Frazier is an above average hitter but after that is when things get very dicey for the Reds lineup.
The Reds, in a hilarious misunderstanding of optimal lineup construction, bat Zack Cozart second, right between Choo & Votto. Cozart has a 64 wRC+ and there isn’t any evidence that he is actually a better hitter than that. Batting an automatic out second overall between your two best hitters is incredibly misguided but it should benefit the Braves as it has benefited Reds opponents all season. Of course I really shouldn’t throw stones as the Braves continue to bat Andrelton Simmons leadoff, but Cozart is actually even worse a hitter than Simmons. The rest of the Reds lineup is an unimpressive collection of players that Fangraphs considers replacement level. The Reds have a few players who can absolutely ruin a pitcher’s day and then a collection of middling talent that will make Brave pitchers feel more comfortable. We will see how this matches up against the Braves more balanced approach.
The Braves will be happy to be able to host the Reds as the Reds offense is much less effective outside the bandbox they call a baseball stadium. The Reds have only a .304 wOBA on the road compared to a .322 wOBA at home. Without the short porch the Braves can hopefully limit the Red homeruns and get out the weaker hitters if the on base machines in the Reds lineup get on.
Cincinnati also has a relatively strong bullpen. Aroldis Chapman is the only closer who can be seriously discussed in the same breath as Craig Kimbrel. Beyond that, the Reds bullpen isn’t as strong as the Braves pen, but it isn’t a pushover group that will regularly blow leads. The Braves offense will still try to get into the opposing bullpen as soon as possible both to face as many relievers as possible and because the Reds starting rotation is a very solid group.
Thursday, July 11th, 7:10 PM EST – Tim Hudson vs Matt Latos
Thursday sees the Braves match up Tim Hudson against Matt Latos. Braves fans can be happy to see Hudson pitching at Turner Field where he has been far more effective this season. It won’t be easy going against Latos who has been spectacular this season posting a 2.96 FIP. Latos strikes out a batter per inning and doesn’t walk batters at a high rate either. He will be a tough challenge for Braves hitters in a matchup that does not favor Atlanta.
Friday, July 12th, 7:30 PM EST – Kris Medlen vs Bronson Arroyo
Friday presents a much better look for the Braves in the Medlen vs Arroyo pitching matchup. Arroyo doesn’t strike many batters out and has a mediocre 4.36 FIP on the season. Arroyo puts the ball over the plate and the Braves power hitters should be able to punish him. Medlen had a rough outing last time out as he continues to struggle to put hitters away after getting ahead in the count. Despite this Medlen has had a solid season and is better than Arroyo. This matchup offers the Braves a good chance for a victory.
Saturday, July 13th, 4:05 PM EST – Mike Minor vs Homer Bailey
The Braves send their best pitcher to the hill on Saturday to face a guy coming off his second career no-hitter. Bailey has had a very strong season pitching his way to a 2.85 FIP. He has a 3.70 ERA suggesting he has struggled with some bad luck this year that obviously wasn’t an issue when threw his recent no hitter. The Braves have a very good chance on any day Mike Minor is pitching so it will be interesting to see what happens in this very competitive matchup.
Sunday, July 14th, 1:35 PM EST – Julio Teheran vs Tony Cingrani
The final Sunday before the All-Star break features the most advantageous pitching matchup for Atlanta in the series. The Braves send out Julio Teheran who has been the Braves second best starter in his first full season as a big league starter. Teheran will face Reds rookie Tony Cingrani who while effective should be the type of hitter that the Braves can punish. Cingrani in the majors has struck out batters at a high rate, while walking hitters and giving up a lot of homeruns. In other words, hello wheelhouse. I think the Braves have a good chance to take 3/4 in the series but as always this is baseball and you can’t predict baseball in small samples.