It's been more than a year since the Cubs played the Braves at Wrigley Field. Remember Tommy La Stella? He started all three games for the Braves in that July 2014 series, going 3-for-12. Now he's a Cub. Well, sort of, anyway. Rumor has it he might be back in September.
In the meantime, the Cubs have four games against the visitors from Atlanta and I asked Kris Willis, manager at SB Nation's Braves site Talking Chop, to tell us a little about his team.
I’m not exactly sure where I should begin to describe the 2015 Atlanta Braves. The direction for this season was pretty much set during the off season when they traded away the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis in deals to replenish the farm system. The front office was unwilling to admit that they were giving up on competing this season, but it was pretty clear to those paying attention that their eyes were set firmly on the future. They reaffirmed that stance at the trade deadline dealing away veterans Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson to the Mets and promising young pitcher Alex Wood in a deal with the Dodgers that netted them Cuban third baseman Hector Olivera. Despite the roster teardown, this Braves team was somewhat competitive at least in the early going. They are eight games over .500 at home but are just 21-43 away from Turner Field. The biggest factor in the Braves’ struggles this season has been an inconsistent offense. Runs figured to be at a premium for Atlanta coming into the season and a pair of DL stints by Freddie Freeman certainly haven’t helped that situation. While wins have been hard to come by (particularly since the break), there is a level of optimism surrounding the team. The front office has been able to restock the farm system and have unloaded just about every unfavorable contract on the roster. This team is still a long ways away from being a championship contender, but they have done a good job of putting a solid foundation in place with the farm system in just one season under John Hart.
Thursday: Jake Arrieta (14-6, 2.39 ERA, 0.994 WHIP, 2.67 FIP) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (4-4, 5.61 ERA, 1.623 WHIP, 5.00 FIP)
Friday: Kyle Hendricks (6-5, 3.97 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 3.52 FIP) vs. Shelby Miller (5-9, 2.43 ERA, 1.158 WHIP, 3.21 FIP)
Saturday: Dan Haren (8-8, 3.63 ERA, 1.132 WHIP, 4.87 FIP) vs. Williams Perez (4-4, 4.34 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 4.90 FIP)
Sunday: Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.38 ERA, 1.094 WHIP, 3.63 FIP) vs. Matt Wisler (5-3, 4.65 ERA, 1.516 WHIP, 4.54 FIP)
Except for Friday (Hendricks vs. Miller), the pitching matchups are favorable for the Cubs in this series. The Braves are re-making their entire roster, including the pitching staff; three of these four starters have never faced the Cubs before. To me, what's most important is what Kris Willis mentioned -- Atlanta's awful record away from Turner Field. Only the Phillies have a worse road record than the Braves.
Hmmm. Maybe that wasn't the best comparison to make. Anyway, since July 8 the Braves are 2-18 on the road. They are coming off being swept in a three-game series in San Diego, and the wonderful MLB schedule-makers have had them travel, since August 1, from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Tampa Bay to Atlanta to San Diego to Chicago.
The Cubs, then, who have played their last 12 games in the city of Chicago, should be quite ready to take on this exhausted bunch of Braves. Three of four in this set gets the ship righted.