The Atlanta Braves head to the desert to kick off a four-game weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night. Atlanta and Arizona are both pushing towards October baseball with the Braves in a much better position to get there, but the D-Backs in more urgent need of wins as they’ve slipped to third in a highly contested NL West.
The game on Thursday could set the tone for the series with both teams likely to send veteran arms to the mound, one more proven than the other.
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Thursday Night Baseball – Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Date and Time: Thursday, September 6, 2018, 9:40 p.m. ET
Location: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona
2018 MLB Betting Odds at BETCRIS: Check Back Later
Braves vs. Diamondbacks 2018 MLB TV Coverage: Fox Sports Network
Neither team has announced their starter for this contest, but Anibal Sanchez and Zack Greinke are in line for the starts.
Sanchez has been a huge comeback story for the Braves. After a couple miserable years in Detroit, Sanchez looks like his old self again at the ripe old age of 34. He’s only made 19 starts due to some injuries, but he’s pitched extraordinarily well, going 6-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.086 WHIP in 108.2 innings of work. He’s served the role of grizzled veteran on the staff and done well game-in and game-out as well.
His strikeout rate is good, but not great and in line with his career norms. Where he’s improved over the last few years is the hard-hit rate. He’s not allowing nearly as many hard-hit balls, including only allowing 13 homers. With a 3.75 FIP, Sanchez has outperformed his peripherals a bit, but even based on the FIP he’s having a solidly above-average season.
In his last game, Sanchez went 5.1 innings and allowed just two runs, one earned. He’s not prone to go deep in games but has 11 innings in his last two games and just two earned runs. He’s yet to allow more than four runs in a game this year so even when he doesn’t have a good game, he doesn’t get blown out. Surprisingly, despite the solid pitching, the Braves are just 10-10 when he pitches.
On the other side, Greinke was an All-Star again this year and for good reason. Also in his age 34 season, Greinke’s success isn’t a surprise. The ace of the staff is 13-9 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.045 WHIP in 176 innings spread over 28 starts. He goes deeper in games than Sanchez though the ERA and WHIP are rather close. The FIP is also close with Greinke sitting at 3.68.
Greinke faced the Braves in July and pitched extraordinarily well, allowing just four hits and no walks in 7.2 shutout innings. Arizona eventually won that game 3-0.
Overall, the D-Backs are 16-12 when he takes the mound, but they’re 2-4 in his last six starts despite all but one of those starts being a quality start.
Double Trouble in the D-Backs’ Lineup
Last year, Arizona acquired J.D. Martinez at the non-waiver trade deadline and coupled with Paul Goldschmidt, those two were the best duo in the sport in the second half. This year, they added Eduardo Escobar and while he’s been a solid piece with a .802 OPS and 11 doubles, the fearsome twosome this year is Goldschmidt and outfielder David Peralta.
Peralta had a good first half but failed to get recognized as an All-Star. Since, he’s been unstoppable. The outfielder is batting .329 in the second half with a .373 OBP and .607 slugging percentage. He has 10 home runs and 21 RBIs. His .980 second half OPS is second on the team behind Goldschmidt.
The perennial MVP candidate has mirrored Peralta’s second half average and done better in the OBP department with a .329/.425/.581 slash line for a 1.006 OPS. He’s also got 10 home runs and has outdone Peralta with 26 RBIs.
Those two have helped make up for a down second half by A.J. Pollock who has a .228 average and .681 OPS since the break. He’s really been the only one struggling with the rest of the team supporting the two sluggers.
Questions in Relief
The Diamondbacks bullpen ranks first in the NL in ERA at 3.15 and is a very deep unit, particularly now that rosters have expanded.
Arizona’s pen includes a wide array of arms including Brad Boxberger, Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, Andrew Chafin, T.J. McFarland, Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman, all having solid seasons, though the more recent numbers show some issues for the seemingly deep and stable pen.
Ziegler has struggled since being acquired. He’s allowed six runs in 10.2 innings with just five strikeouts, 12 hits and three walks. Diekman has been better but has been used almost exclusively as a situational lefty, throwing 7.2 innings in 13 games. That said, he does have 15 strikeouts.
As for the holdovers, Boxberger has down blown saves and a 6.00 ERA since the All-Star Break while Bradley has allowed 14 runs in 17.1 innings during that time, blowing four saves. The pen is 7-for-15 in save chances since the break.
Rookie of the Half
Ronald Acuna Jr. was the best prospect in baseball coming into the year and earned himself an early season promotion to the Braves. Since joining the big-league team, he’s been a spark for the offense, but he’s been exceptionally good in the second half.
Along with the Nationals’ Juan Soto, Acuna is one of the top candidates for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Overall, he’s batting .296 with 23 home runs and 50 RBIs in just 85 games. He’s got a .296/.361/.577 slash line and a 150 OPS+. Those rate stats all pace the Braves, including topping Freddie Freeman’s 140 OPS+. Freeman, meanwhile, is a candidate for the MVP award. If not for spending the first month in the minors and missing time due to injury, Acuna could very well be in the MVP conversation, too.
The 20-year old outfielder is making it look easy in the Major League, particularly since the break where he’s hitting .246 with a 1.141 OPS thanks to 16 home runs and 11 doubles over 42 games. He’s also got 31 RBIs and nine stolen bases since the middle of July.
Acuna’s surge as more than covered Nick Markakis’s second half regression.
A Surging Bullpen in Atlanta
With a young pitching staff and a young bullpen, the Braves picked up some arms at the trade deadline and while the moves generally flew under the radar, they’ve proven to be exceptional pickups.
Atlanta added Brad Brach and Jonny Venters to the pen and both veterans have stepped up their games. Brach is a former All-Star, but had struggled this year in Baltimore, but has pitched 14.1 innings for Atlanta with just one earned run. Venters has one earned in 13 innings.
Beyond those two, A.J. Minter has stepped into the closer’s role with great success while Dan Winkler and Jesse Biddle have taken on large workloads in the second half without missing a beat.
The Braves’ bullpen doesn’t have as many names as the Arizona pen, but they’ve had success. Atlanta also has a wealth of young pitching prospects that can help in both the rotation and the bullpen down the stretch. We’re starting to see them trickle onto the roster here in September.
Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks Free Picks
These are two contending teams kicking of a series on Thursday. It should be an interesting series as both teams have stumbled a bit of late.
The D-Backs are a better road team than home team and Atlanta’s been strong on the road this year, too. Based on that, the Braves may have the edge, but take Greinke to outshine Sanchez on the mound.
While Sanchez has had a good year, don’t look for more than five innings and change from him while giving up a couple runs. Meanwhile, Greinke’s already proven he can shut down the Braves’ lineup.
Atlanta will scratch across a couple runs, but look for Goldschmidt and Peralta to outscore the Braves and lead Arizona to a win with the bullpen managing to close out the game despite some recent struggles.
Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks Pick: Bet the money line on the Arizona Diamondbacks at home with their ace on the hill.
Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks Score Prediction: Diamondbacks 5, Braves 4
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