I am back from vacation and ready to jump right back into the stretch run for MLB baseball. Luke Houston did an admirable job of helping find value for you all while I was gone, and today I get right back at it. August was starting to turn around after a slow start, and I am hoping to build on that momentum today.
The Atlanta Braves are in Pittsburgh Tuesday for game two of a three series with the Pirates. The Braves are clinging to a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East Division chase. The Pirates, on the other hand, are stuck in fourth place in their division, the NL Central, and are six games back of the second wild-card and final playoff spot in the National League. The Braves took game one last night 1-0 behind a dominant start from rookie Bryse Wilson.
Wilson pitched five shutout innings, allowing just three hits along the way. It was another big performance from yet another very young Braves player. Wilson, at just twenty years old, was making his MLB debut and did not disappoint. What might end up being the bigger win for the Braves in this is the fact that they got the rest of their rotation an extra day’s rest with the spot start from Wilson. Atlanta is hoping that extra day off will keep the rotation fresh as they look to stay atop the NL East standings.
Starting tonight for Atlanta with that extra day off is Kevin Gausman (7-9 4.22 ERA), and for the Pirates, it is Ivan Nova (7-7 4.26 ERA). The Pirates are -107 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at eight runs. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 PM PST from PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
The Atlanta Braves were steaming hot to start out the month of August. They won eleven out of their first fifteen games and regained the lead in the NL East Division race. Then they ran into the buzz saw of the Colorado Rockies and got swept in a four-game series. The Braves managed to hold off the Phillies for first place and shook off some of that run bad last night when they picked up the win against the Pirates in game one.
Atlanta will turn to the newly acquired Kevin Gausman tonight to try and pick up the series win in game two. I will be the first to admit I was a bit surprised when the Braves made the move to acquire Gausman at the trade deadline. He just didn’t seem to be a guy that would lift the Braves to a division title. However, the early returns for Gausman have been pretty good.
In three starts in the National League, Gausman is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA. That is considerably better than the 4.43 ERA he posted with the Baltimore Orioles before being moved. And I guess it wasn’t all that hard to see coming. Almost all pitchers fare better in the NL than they did in the AL and going from the worst team in baseball to a first-place team that is in the mix of a pennant chase had to be a shot in the arm for the once prized prospect.
Gausman will look to hold back a Pirates team that is really struggling at the plate right now. In the Pirates last five games, they have scored a total of five runs, that includes getting shut out three times. One guy that has been used to not getting support is tonight’s starter for Pittsburgh, Ivan Nova. Nova has been the recipient of three runs, or fewer of support, in nine of his twenty-three starts this season.
That makes it tough to win when your team just doesn’t score a lot of runs for you. And you can see that reflected in Nova’s mediocre 7-7 record, despite the fact that he has pitched fairly well this year. Nova was a hard-luck loser in his last start when he pitched six, and two-thirds innings of one-run ball and the Pirates lost 1-0 and he was charged with the loss.
This is a close game. Gausman and Nova are both pitching fairly well right now, and I would call the starting pitching matchup a wash. I do like the fact that Gausman got an extra day of rest, but I don’t think that’s enough to call him the prohibitive favorite in this matchup. That being said, the Braves are certainly the much better overall team.
The Braves are seven games better than the Pirates right now and will be pulling out all the stops to try and win this game. The Pirates? They are essentially out of contention at this point, and manager Clint Hurler is doing everything he can to shake things up. Hurdle benched their starting center fielder Starling Marte for lacking hustle before last night’s game.
That is the type of move a manager makes when they are looking towards the future and not necessarily trying to win games right now. He did it to prove a point to the rest of the team, that slacking off wasn’t going to be tolerated, even though the season may well be over. How did the team respond? By getting shut out.
I see the Braves as small favorites in this game. I like their lineup, especially with Ronald Acuna Jr. tearing the cover off the ball right now and think Gausman will be able to hold back this Pirates lineup that is really struggling. And maybe Hurdle will do something dramatic again and bench a key player to try and lite another fire under this team. All I know for sure is that Atlanta is all in on a playoff push, which means they are all in on this game tonight. Give me the Atlanta Braves as small road underdogs tonight in game two from Pittsburgh!