The Atlanta Braves will start their post All-Star break drive to the playoffs with a three game series against one of the lesser American League teams, the Chicago White Sox. The Sox are 37-55, fourteen games out of first place in the AL Central. The Sox are a team going nowhere in 2013 but, as always, anything can happen over a three game stretch in baseball, so the Braves have to play well to win the series. Early reports from Braves beat writers on Twitter have suggested that it is likely Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman will be healthy enough to play on Friday night, which would be a relief after the disastrous run of injuries in the Reds series. Jason Heyward may need another day before he is ready to go. If the Braves can go into Chicago relatively healthy, then a series victory becomes likely.
The White Sox lineup is atrocious. Collectively, the team boasts an 83 wRC+ the worst mark in the American League and the team’s position players have been worth 2.3 fWAR the second worst total in the AL. Alex Rios has been the Sox best overall player this year but he has only needed a 103 wRC+ to achieve that distinction. Adam Dunn has hit 24 homers this year, and still walks often but only has a 110 wRC+ to show for it. Dunn is the Sox version of Dan Uggla except actually a greater liability on defense, and is being counted on to be one of the Sox better hitters. Gordon Beckham has had a good season in limited action and has the highest wRC+ on the team at 114. Beckham is a contact hitter who doesn’t walk or hit for power but success on balls in play has allowed him to be one of the White Sox best hitters this year. The Sox don’t hit many home runs and have the second worst OBP in the AL. The Braves pitchers should be able to dominate the Sox lineup as most pitchers have this year.
While the White Sox lineup is largely ineffectual, the same cannot be said of the White Sox pitching. The Sox bullpen ranks first in the AL in reliever fWAR though only fifth in FIP. Setup man Jesse Crain has had a dominant season so far and the Braves will be hard pressed to be the team to mess up his pretty 0.74 ERA. Crain didn’t pitch in the All-Star game due to a shoulder strain so his status for this series is uncertain but he has not been placed on the DL. Addison Reed has been a good closer converting 24/28 save opportunities. Reed has a 3.95 ERA but a 2.69 FIP suggesting he has suffered from poor batted ball luck in his bad outings. The Sox bullpen is a strong group that the Braves shouldn’t relish having to come back on. The Braves will win this series with early leads that the Sox punchless offense won’t be able to make up. The Sox have a very good starting rotation as well, though the Braves will be lucky to miss Chris Sale who is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Friday, July 19th - Tim Hudson vs John Danks – 8:10 EST
The Braves will start their second half campaign with a relatively favorable pitching matchup. Hudson has had a good season posting a 3.62 FIP and is second amongst Braves starters in fWAR. Danks went into the All-Star break on a relative hot streak but he has a 4.64 FIP on the season. Danks is good at limiting walks but gives up a lot of homeruns and doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. Danks can’t count on much run support so a home run or two from a healthy Braves lineup should be enough to win this game for Atlanta.
Saturday, July 20th – Paul Maholm vs Jake Peavy – 4:05 EST
Maholm will try to right himself after some struggles heading into the break, against Jake Peavy who is making his first start since June 4th after fracturing a rib. How Peavy will respond in his first start is hard to guess but Peavy was having a decent season prior to his injury. On the season Peavy has a 4.30 ERA but a lower FIP and even lower xFIP suggesting his ERA has been inflated by bad luck. Peavy’s FIP is right in line with last season when he was worth 4.4 fWAR and his xFIP is right in line with his career norms. Peavy is a good pitcher that the Sox are hoping will showcase himself for a possible trade to a contender. Peavy has struck out batters at high rate this year while giving up more homers than usual for him. How he will feel coming off the DL is hard to predict. This pitching matchup seems a toss-up, though I would favor the Braves when you factor in how poor the Sox lineup is.
Sunday, July 21st – Mike Minor vs Jose Quintana – 2:10 EST
The Braves will cap the series by sending their staff ace to the mound to face Jose Quintana. Quintana has been the Sox second best pitcher this season with a 3.88 FIP and 2.1 fWAR. Quintana has solid walk and strikeout numbers while giving up a tad more homers than average. Quintana has been a durable effective starter for the Sox but the Braves should have the upper hand with Minor. Minor strikes out more batters, walks fewer batters, and they have identical HR/9 rates. The Braves should be favored in every game in this series but that doesn’t necessarily mean a sweep is likely. The most likely outcome is the Braves take 2/3 and Saturday’s game should be the Sox best chance for a win.