Bleacher Report is buying this Braves ace’s May stretch

MLB: APR 26 Guardians at Braves

The Braves sit 5.0 games behind the Phillies, and the offense is the driving factor in that deficit.

Atlanta’s historic offense from a year ago has been a shell of itself thus far. Marcell Ozuna is the only player to have sustained success. Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris, and the rest of the Braves’ stars are underperforming.

However, that’s not going to last, and the club still sits 10 games over .500 with a 31-21 record, and the largest reason for that is the elite pitching Atlanta has gotten from its rotation and bullpen.

The Braves’ starters rank 8th in baseball with a 3.49 ERA and 3rd with a 3.40 FIP while the team’s relievers own a 3.26 ERA, which is good for 4th. Even despite losing Spencer Strider, the Braves’ rotation is among the best in the MLB, thanks to Max Fried and a pair of offseason acquisitions in Reynaldo Lopez and Chris Sale.

Amid a contract year, Max Fried is turning in what could be the best season of his career. He went eight scoreless innings last night, walking one and striking out six in a 2-0 victory over the Nationals. Fried has now allowed no runs in four of his past seven starts and has allowed just one earned run in his last 17 innings. After giving up three earned runs and not getting out of the first inning in his first start, Fried now owns a 2.97 ERA.

Reynaldo Lopez has been a revelation in his transition from the bullpen to the rotation. The $30 million free agent signing owns an eye-popping 1.75 ERA across nine starts spanning 51.1 innings. And somehow, Lopez isn’t even the most impressive Braves starter.

Chris Sale has seemingly refound his form. After missing half of a decade due to injuries, the seven-time All-Star is back to being one of the best starters in the league. Sale owns a 2.12 ERA and an MLB-leading 2.11 FIP, which says this is no fluke, to go along with an NL-leading 8.67 SO/W.

He’s been on another level in May, which Bleacher Report is buying among MLB’s hottest forms in the month.

May Stats: 5-0, 32.0 IP, 23 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 45 K, 0.56 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 12.7 K/9

The big change has been the effectiveness of his change, which is decimating right-handed hitters.

Opponents hit .309 against Sale’s changeup last season and .432 in 2021, but they are 4-for-33 (.121) this season after going just 1-for-20 in May.

The 35-year-old used to get a decent number of strikeouts via the changeup back in 2013-15, but it is less of a wipe-out pitch and much more of a professional nuisance these days; a great tool for inducing weak contact.

Throw in the fact that the average velocity on his four-seamer is up nearly one mph from where it had been in 2019, 2021 and 2023, and he has been mowing down the competition, allowing either zero or one run in each of his last six starts.

Do we expect him to maintain the 0.56 ERA and 22.5 K/BB ratio that he posted in May? Heck no. But this also doesn’t look fluky. As long as he stays healthy, he should remain dominant. (At any rate, with both Spencer Strider and now Ronald Acuña Jr. done for the season, Atlanta needs him to be great.)

The Braves lost an ace in Spencer Strider, but Chris Sale has stepped up in his absence and given the club arguably the best one-two punch in baseball with their two southpaws.

Nobody should be expecting Chris Sale to continue to dominate like he has in May, but the regression won’t be dramatic. In fact, nobody should be surprised if he contends for a Cy Young. He looks like Prime Chris Sale, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for a Braves team that lost Spencer Strider, Ronald Acuna and has a dormant offense.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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