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Swinging for 62: Matchups and predictions as Giancarlo Stanton approaches his home run goal

The chase is going down to the wire.

Thursday night was Stanton’s 10th multi-homer performances of this historic season.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins are trying desperately to lure you to the ballpark this weekend, cramming a handful of special events and promotions into the final games of the Jeffrey Loria era. They assumed (correctly) that the team would be out of postseason contention, and typically, that means fans need a gimmick to peak their interest.

But there’s been nothing typical about the 2017 Marlins, starting with Giancarlo Stanton. A pair of no-doubters on Thursday raised his home run total to 59. With three games remaining, Stanton is only three shy of 62, an ambitious goal he specified publicly back in August.

In a wide-open NL MVP race, surpassing Babe Ruth (60 HR) and Roger Maris (61 HR) in the record books would be a convincing closing argument. He’ll try to get it done against a young Atlanta Braves pitching staff with nothing left to play for.

Let’s break down all the variables that could impact Stanton’s historic chase.

Home-field advantage

Marlins Park is notoriously unfriendly to power hitters. It consistently ranks as one of the five most difficult venues to go yard, according to ESPN Park Factors. The deep dimensions contribute to that, as does the retractable roof, which ensures games don’t take place under humid conditions.

However, those are trivial concerns for a transcendent freak. The ESPN Home Run Tracker estimates that 35 of Stanton’s 59 long balls this season would have been out of any MLB environment.

Stanton feels comfortable in South Florida, especially since the new stadium opened. Hopefully incoming ownership takes that into serious consideration before making any significant changes to the field itself.

Giancarlo Stanton, 2012-Present

Season wRC+ (Overall) AB/HR (Overall) wRC+ (Home) AB/HR (Home)
Season wRC+ (Overall) AB/HR (Overall) wRC+ (Home) AB/HR (Home)
2012 158 12.1 160 15.4
2013 137 17.7 185 13.5
2014 161 14.6 188 11.3
2015 155 10.3 169 10.5
2016 116 15.3 124 16.8
2017 158 9.9 182 8.6
Source: FanGraphs

Stanton vs. Atlanta’s probable starters

Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey declined an opportunity to start the season finale, so the Braves will proceed with an all-rookie rotation:

  • Friday—LHP Luiz Gohara (4.63 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 23.1 IP this season)
  • Saturday—RHP Lucas Sims (4.85 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 55.2 IP)
  • Sunday—LHP Max Fried (3.74 ERA, 5.51 FIP, 21.2 IP)

Stanton has had limited head-to-head experience against them, including none whatsoever against Gohara. Seven total plate appearances against the other two have yielded a .333/.429/.833 slash line. Fried is a former first-round draft pick and top-100 prospect, but Stanton didn’t seem too intimidated in their first encounter.

His platoon splits this year are more pronounced than usual (202 wRC+ against left-handers, 146 wRC+ against right-handers), so expect Stanton to be more successful on Friday and Sunday.

Stanton vs. Atlanta’s possible relievers

Expect the Braves bullpen to be very busy as manager Brian Snitker takes a cautious approach with his inexperienced starters. Neither Gohara nor Fried has pitched a complete game since turning pro.

The eclectic mix of available relievers includes All-Stars, rookies, reclamation projects and everything in between. Stanton should be prepared for matchups with any of the following: Rex Brothers*, Sam Freeman*, Luke Jackson, Jim Johnson, Ian Krol*, A.J. Minter, Jason Motte, Jose Ramirez, Arodys Vizcaino, Dan Winkler* and Max Wisler.

*After embarrassing Brothers on Thursday, it’s less likely that the Braves will trust any of their lefties to face him.

That’s a lot of names, but not so many fond memories. Stanton has batted .220/.333/.415 with just two home runs in 48 plate appearances. He very nearly got a third against Motte on Aug. 5.

The pitch selection of Braves relievers also seems unfavorable for Stanton. They have combined to throw 54.2 percent fastballs in September, the sixth-lowest rate in the majors. He boasts a 187 wRC+ this season—compared to 158 wRC+ overall—in plate appearances ending with four-seamers.

Most importantly, Stanton must have opportunities to swing the bat in order to rack up home runs. From that standpoint, the Braves are a desirable opponent. They have issued only 37 intentional walks in 1,416 13 innings. That rate ranks 11th in the National League.

Does he reach 62? long as Dee Gordon plays out the string, too. Stanton has dominated this season when there’s a runner on first with the next base open. That runner is usually Gordon, and that split is no coincidence. His base-stealing ability is a major distraction to the pitcher, particularly rookie pitchers like those Stanton will see all weekend.

He gets one against the Braves ‘pen on Friday night, then two lasers off Max Fried in Game 162.

A few more days of the same old same old before a crazy offseason begins.