ATLANTA -- Though the Braves have looked at advanced metrics, trends, splits and other statistical data, experience may have been the metric that carried the most weight by deciding to start left-hander Dallas Keuchel against the right-handed-heavy Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Keuchel has made nine postseason starts, including two for the Astros during the 2017 World Series. The other four members of Atlanta’s regular season rotation -- Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Julio Teheran -- have combined to make three postseason starts. Foltynewicz made two of those in last year’s NLDS, and Teheran accounted for the other during the 2013 NLDS.
Though the rest of the rotation has not been set, the indication is Foltynewicz will follow Keuchel and start Game 2. When the best-of-five series shifts to St. Louis for Sunday’s Game 3, Soroka would be given the chance to extend the success he had while producing a 1.55 road ERA during the regular season -- the third-best road ERA over the course of a full season since 1969 (min. 15 starts).
With this arrangement, Keuchel or Foltynewicz could start Game 5. Meanwhile, Soroka, who established himself as an NL Cy Young Award candidate this year, would start just once during this series. This of course would end up being beneficial if the Braves were to advance, because then their heralded rookie would be available to start Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.
Fried is the most likely candidate to start Game 4, if necessary. But before committing to this plan, the Braves will wait to see how frequently he is used out of the bullpen during the first few games.
Below are some recent stats to evaluate when considering how the Braves’ starters might fare. There is certainly an indication that the Braves will have better odds when their right-handers -- Soroka and Foltynewicz -- are on the mound.
Season: .733 vs. RHP, .755 vs LHP
Since Aug. 1: .751 vs. RHP, .803 vs. LHP
Since Sept. 1: .735 vs. RHP, .798 vs. LHP
Though the Cardinals went just 18-16 in games when they faced a left-handed starter, they have been much more productive recently against southpaws.
vs. LHH: .189/.268/.351, 70.8 percent ground-ball rate (84 plate appearances)
vs. RHH: .281/.353/.442, 59.4 GB%
vs. Cards: Has not faced them since 2016
Even though he encountered a rough inning in each of his final three outings, Keuchel posted a 2.55 ERA over his last nine starts. The former AL Cy Young Award winner could prove quite valuable against Dodgers lefties Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy if the Braves were to face the Dodgers in the NLCS. But Keuchel will be challenged against the right-handed-heavy Cardinals lineup.
vs. LHH since returning to the Majors: .177/.240/.313
vs. RHH since returning: .239/.294/.393
Foltynewicz has been rejuvenated since spending six weeks at Triple-A this summer. St. Louis' Jack Flaherty is the only NL pitcher to post a better ERA than Foltynewicz (1.73) since Aug. 23. These two will likely match up in Game 2.
Foltynewicz allowed the Cardinals eight runs over 4 2/3 innings on May 14 in Atlanta, and then limited them to one unearned run over six innings 10 days later at Busch Stadium.
vs. LHH: .282/.331/.419
vs. RHH: .203/.256/.281
While Soroka was remarkable on the road, he posted a 4.14 ERA in 13 home starts. This is the primary reason the Braves would pass on the chance to start the 22-year-old right-hander in either of the first two games. But the numbers show Soroka will likely present the greatest challenge to St. Louis’ right-handed-heavy lineup.
He shut out the Cardinals on three hits over seven innings on May 15 in Atlanta, and then held them to two runs (one earned) on five hits over six innings on May 25 in St. Louis.