Welcome back baseball fans! After a great All-Star break that saw a record-breaking Home Run Derby and an exciting All-Star game, we get back to a full slate of games today with fifteen games on the schedule. The next couple of weeks will be key for contenders as the trade deadline looms on July 31st and teams that had a solid first half that fall apart before the deadline, may end up turning into sellers. While some teams that had slower starts could pick up enough momentum to make a big push to acquire talent and take a run at the playoffs. For today’s pick, we will look at a team whose future could go either way as the Padres host the Braves.
The Atlanta Braves are in San Diego Friday for game one of a three-game series with the Padres. Fresh off of the All-Star break, the Braves are looking to pick up where they left on in the first half of the year. Atlanta won four out of their last fives games and finished with the second-best record in the National League at 54-37.
For the Padres, they are sitting at 45-45 and are hoping that they can get hot and get back to the right side of .500. Right now, the Padres are in third place in the crowded National League West Division, fourteen games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers. While catching the Dodgers is a long shot, the Pads are just two games back of the second wild-card spot in the NL.
Starting for the Braves is the newly acquired Dallas Kuechel (2-2 3.60 ERA) for the Padres it is Dinelson Lamet (0-1 5.40 ERA). The game total over-under is set at nine runs. The Padres are slight favorites at -106. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM PST from PETCO Park in San Diego.
If you didn’t know who Ronald Acuna Jr was before last week’s Home Run Derby, you do now. The young budding superstar put on a show in Cleveland and showed everybody just how much raw power he packs. Acuna hit a blistering .331 in June and is putting up MVP level stats. The Braves have a lot of young talent, but at just twenty-one years old, Acuna is the youngest and the best. His continued success will be very important for Atlanta as they look to catch the Dodgers for the best record in the NL and the home field advantage that goes with it.
When the Braves made the move to bring in Dallas Kuechel last month, they hoped that he would be able to regain his former Cy Young Award-winning status. And after a couple of mediocre starts, he has really turned it on recently. In his last two starts, he has pitched a combined fourteen and a third innings and has allowed just two earned runs in both starts.
As has always been the case with Kuechel, he is doing a great job of forcing ground balls. In his four starts since joining the Braves, he has forced fifty-two groundballs compared to just thirty-five fly balls. He hasn’t focused on striking guys out, and his ability to stay efficient has allowed him to get deep into games. I expect him to have a solid outing tonight as the Padres, despite having some solid pop, are just twentieth in runs scored, and twenty-fourth in batting average. You can pencil Kuechel in for six-plus innings of solid work tonight.
Dinelson Lamet was supposed to be the next big thing in San Diego last season. The then twenty-five-year-old Lamet was expected to be the number two starter in the Padres rotation. After making twenty-one starts, he posted very mediocre results. He finished his season 7-8 with a 4.60 ERA. He gave up nineteen home runs in just 119 innings of work. His season ended with elbow trouble, and he was forced to get Tommy John surgery.
After taking much of the first half of the season to recover, Lamet made his season debut just before the All-Star break. He pitched ok, lasting just five innings while throwing eighty pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He gave up three earned runs and lost the game. Generally, it takes a full year before a pitcher gets back to full strength after Tommy John surgery, and it makes you wonder how he is a favorite tonight against one of the best hitting teams in the league.
This number just doesn’t make any sense at all. The Braves are the much better overall team, and Kuechel is clearly the better side of the starting pitching matchup. I guess because the Padres are at home is why they are favored? But when you look at the Braves home and away splits, they have the best road record in the National League! And the Padres? They have a losing record at PETCO Park this season.
So, I will hammer the Braves in this one, and feel like I am certainly on the right side of things. Give me the Atlanta Braves as small road underdogs in game one from San Diego at -104!