Yes, the Braves pulled back to even with the Cardinals last night in a 7-1 win over the hapless Phillies and the sacrificial lamb of a pitcher they tossed out there. From pitch #1 when Jason Heyward went deep, you knew that kid Cloyd was in trouble. I don't waste tears on the Phillies though. We have bigger problems to worry about heading into the playoffs with competition that seems to be firing on all cylinders late in the year.
Today I take a look at the last of the possible playoff teams heading into the weekend, The Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are an odd team in that they don't do many things spectacularly, but they do everything really well. They score a lot of runs (3rd NL), but they do it with a rather mediocre batting average (8th NL). They hit some homers (5th NL), but their overall slugging is in the bottom half of the league (9th NL). Their pitching has a solid ERA (4th NL), but they actually lead the league in both strikeouts and BAA.
For a team like the Braves that last bit bothers me the most. The Reds pitchers have been able to strike out a ton of hitters, and they don't give up a ton of hits. The upside is that in matches against Atlanta, the Braves have roughed up the Cincy pitchers for a 5.00 ERA and a 4-3 record favoring the good guys. Of all the teams the Braves could face in the playoff first round, these pitching matchups seem to favor the Braves the most, since the Reds have the worst ERA against the Braves of any playoff team. That hasn't exactly equalled a blowout on the scoreboard, but over 7 games it could be a series win. Pittsburgh is a close 2nd in that stat, which is why whoever wins the wild card game would be a good opponent for the Braves. However, that only happens if we get home field advantage over the Cardinals.
The Reds have 4 key players that are the most dangerous on their team. Bronson Arroyo, who is one of the few pitchers on their staff that has contained the Braves with a 1-1 record and a 3.75 ERA against the Braves lineup. Shin-Soo Choo, who has absolutely destroyed the Braves pitching with a .393 average in 28 ABs, 3 homers, and a double. Zach Cozart with an OPS of 1.000 in 30 ABs against the Braves. And lastly, Brandon Phillips who has managed 9 RBIs in just 27 ABs versus Atlanta. Any of these guys can take over a game and really ruin the Braves day. It's all about negating their influence if the Braves draw them in the first round, and making the rest of the pitching staff and lineup for the Reds step up.
With 3 games left, we've now covered the possiblities. You have the knowledge of what these other teams bring to the table and how they fare against our Braves. Now, it's on the Braves players to keep hitting and maintain pace with the Cardinals so we can stay in the top spot for the best position. This weekend could very well be an enormous factor that we all look back on in October win or lose. Let's hope we all remember it fondly as we hoist a big trophy.
Monday I'll do the preview for the playoffs, and we'll all know where we stand. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend baseball and football, and cheer on the Braves.