For the Atlanta Braves, the regular season’s final week is as much about getting ready for the National League playoffs as it is winning and losing.
With that in mind, manager Brian Snitker made a change for Wednesday night’s series finale with the Kansas City Royals that he believes will give his team the best chance of winning a Division Series against either St. Louis or Milwaukee.
Instead of starting rookie right-hander Mike Soroka, Snitker has opted to use veteran Josh Tomlin in his spot opposite Kansas City left-hander Mike Montgomery. Soroka will now pitch the regular-season finale Sunday at SunTrust Park against the New York Mets.
It also puts Soroka in line for a start in Game 3 of the Division Series, which would be on the road. This is important because Soroka has pitched to a 1.35 earned run average in 15 road outings and a 4.14 ERA in 13 home starts.
Atlanta will be shorthanded for the finale of the two-game series as well. Already without Freddie Freeman (elbow) for the short trip to Kansas City, it will likely play without center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. after he left Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss after the second inning.
It was announced that Acuna suffered right hip tightness while chasing a Bubba Starling fly ball, but he said after the game that the tightness was in his left hip. Acuna and his 41 homers seem unlikely to play until at least Friday night.
“Make no mistake, I ride them all hard and they respond,” Snitker told MLB.com after the Braves clinched the NL East. “But now that we have the opportunity, I’m going to get some guys some rest.”
Which is another reason why Tomlin (2-1, 3.82) is making his first start after 49 relief appearances this year. The former Cleveland Indian, who made 144 starts in the first nine years of his career and drew two World Series starts in 2016, is 10-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 28 games, 22 of them starts, against Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Montgomery will try to finish off a disappointing season on a positive note. After being dealt from the Chicago Cubs at the July 31 trading deadline for catcher Martin Maldonado, Montgomery is 2-7 with a 4.70 ERA in 12 starts.
He’s coming off a no-decision Thursday night in Minnesota, where he lasted four-plus innings, allowing seven hits and five runs with one walk and three strikeouts. Montgomery’s night ended when he was ejected by plate umpire Manny Gonzalez after yielding a game-tying homer to Mitch Garver.
“There were some calls that he could have gotten that he didn’t get the benefit of,” said Royals manager Ned Yost to MLB.com about Montgomery’s dismissal.
In eight career outings against Atlanta, three of them starts, Montgomery is 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA. He’s 5-3 in 27 career inter-league games with a 4.24 ERA.
In spite of sending the retiring Yost out the door with a 100-loss season, Kansas City can sweep all four games of the season series with the Braves.
–Field Level Media