Teheran optimistic despite rocky stretch

Righty's postseason role in flux as homers abound

September 19th, 2019

ATLANTA -- While the focus remains on clinching the National League East as early as possible, the Braves can use these final days of the regular season to determine whether it truly would be wise to give a playoff start.

Teheran’s postseason rotation candidacy took another hit as he surrendered a pair of home runs in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday night at SunTrust Park. The Braves have lost three straight for the first time since July 18 and will now have to wait until at least Friday to celebrate a second straight division title.

“[Teheran] had some starts like this earlier in the year coming off a really good run,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It just happens. I think it’s unfair to think these guys are going to go out and shut out guys every start. They’re going to go through tough spots just like anybody.”

There’s certainly no reason for the Braves to panic. Their magic number was reduced to two when the Nationals lost to the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon. But at the same time, they certainly don’t want to limp through the nine remaining games.

“We can feel it,” first baseman said. “We know we’re real close. We can taste it. We’ve got to take care of business, though.”

Teheran was victimized by a familiar nemesis in the fourth inning, when he surrendered a two-run homer to , who has nine homers in 47 career at-bats (5.2 AB/HR) against the Braves’ veteran. lengthened the Phillies’ lead when he began a two-run sixth with a home run.

This has not been a good closing stretch for Teheran, who has allowed nine runs -- eight earned -- over his past nine innings, all of which have been completed against the Phillies. Before surrendering three homers during last week’s four-inning effort in Philadelphia, the 28-year-old righty had allowed three runs and one homer over his past 25 innings (four starts).

Left-handed hitters have accounted for four of the five homers hit within these past two starts. Teheran had surrendered a total of five homers to left-handers through the 30 starts that preceded this stretch.

Each of these past four homers hit by a left-handed hitter have come against a four-seam fastball. Harper and Hernández hit heaters down in the zone on Wednesday. The homers Adam Haseley and Hernández tallied last week were against elevated four-seamers.

Per Statcast, before these past two starts, left-handed hitters had batted .183 (15-for-82) with a .256 slugging percentage and one homer against Teheran’s four-seamer.

“Those are the pitches I’ve been throwing the whole year,” Teheran said. “I’ve been having success. For some reason, my last two starts, I’ve been making mistakes, and they’ve been homers.”

Maybe these past two starts have just been an inevitable bump in the road. Teheran produced a 0.81 ERA over eight starts from May 5-June 13 and then allowed 15 earned runs while totaling just 11 1/3 innings over the three starts that followed. He followed that by posting a 1.91 ERA over his next seven starts.

Still, even if Teheran had cruised through these past two outings, there were going to be concerns about him getting a playoff start. He produced the NL’s fourth-best ERA (2.67) over 23 starts from May 5-Sept.7. But within this same span, he ranked second-to-last with a 5.34 Expected Fielding Independent Pitching mark.

This latter number, a predictive metric, foreshadowed this recent decline and created a strong argument to stay away from giving him a postseason start. That argument has grown stronger as has righted himself while producing a 1.52 ERA over his past five starts.

“The last month of the year, that’s when you need to wrap everything up and finish strong,” Teheran said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. My last two starts have been regular. I’ve got one more, and I’m just thinking about that one. Then we’ll think about what’s going to happen in the postseason.”