FEATURE
2034 Playoff Breakdowns: Vinson - Atlanta
Vinson - Pak is probably a better description.
by CAVE DAMERON

Starting Lineup

First things first: the Braves have the best position player in the game. SS Han-su Pak put up 9.0 WAR this year, more than a full point higher than the next highest player. He might win both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at the second-most valuable position. Unfortunately for him, the only other above-average batters on the Braves are 1B Mario Alcaraz and 3B Clinton Crocker, who combined for 5.3 WAR. On top of starting six average-or-worse batters, the Braves only have one lefty in their lineup. That doesn’t bode well against Vinson’s mostly right-handed rotation.

On the other hand, Vinson has five players with 4 or more WAR this season. They don’t have a standout player like Pak, but they’re one of the deepest lineups in the league. If they have a weakness, it’s their lack of power. Their 192 HRs this season were only good for eighth in the league. The addition of 1B Tim Eisenberg helps them generate power from the left side, which was a struggle earlier in the season. Still, the Emperors get on base as consistently as anyone and have no problems driving in baserunners.

Advantage: VInson

Rotation

It’s unclear right now if the Braves will stick with their five-man rotation or cut it down to four. They don’t really have an ace, instead having five guys who would be mid-rotation starters or worse on most teams. Lefty Jordan Quinatanilla has struggled in his rookie season and is the most likely to move to the bullpen given Vinson’s surplus of right-handed batters. Nick Moore is the closest thing the Braves have to an ace, but he just pitched yesterday and likely won’t be ready to go until Game 3 at the earliest. On the bright side, he’d be the potential Game 7 starter for the Braves, but they won’t get that far anyway.

Vinson has two aces: Robin Gordon and Tom Chatwin both finished in the top 13 in pitching WAR. Oliver Bolan will move to the bullpen, leaving a four-man rotation of Gordon, Chatwin, Jonathan Ochoa, and Francisco Ramos. While Ochoa has struggled a bit this year, that’s still one of the better rotations in the game with plenty of playoff experience. With Vinson’s defense ranking as the best in the league, the Emperors can prevent runs as well as anyone.

Advantage: Vinson

Bullpen

Atlanta has a very good one-two-three punch in Deschamps, Gutierrez, and Castellanos closing out games. If the Braves have a lead going into the seventh inning they usually come away with a win. The rest of the bullpen doesn’t hold up quite as well. Boer’s BB/9 is almost as high as his K/9 and Shoji has struggled both as a starter and reliever this season. Quintanilla moving to the bullpen would provide a much-needed lefty specialist, but no matter what, the back end of the Braves’ bullpen will be their downfall unless their starters can go deep into games.

The Braves have a good trio of late-inning relievers; the Emperors have one of the best in the game. The combination of Hao, Cooper, and Denis closing out games is like Deschamps-Gutierrez-Castellanos on steroids. Unlike Atlanta, however, Vinson has quality relievers throughout the bullpen. Velarde and Bolan are possibly the only two relievers on Vinson who aren’t above-average. Even in the unlikely scenario that one of Vinson’s starters gets knocked out of the game early, the bullpen will have no trouble keeping the Braves off the scoreboard.

Advantage: Vinson

Final Prediction

I don’t see how Atlanta can take this series from the Emperors. There’s not a single pitching matchup in favor of the Braves, and Pak can only do so much with the bat by himself. Vinson has the advantage in their lineup, defense, rotation, and bullpen. Unsurprisingly, the Emperors are 6-1 against Atlanta this season. I’d be surprised if the Braves can even match that win total in this series.

Pick: Vinson in 4