Braves: Atlants’s surging offense heads to Dunedin for a weekend series with the Blue Jays 

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Just five days ago, the Braves were held to only one hit overall in their double-header against the Diamondbacks, in what many in Braves Country are now calling Black Sunday. Fourteen innings worth of baseball featuring 13 strikeouts by Atlanta’s batters, and of course, two losses… all in one day. Terrible.

Now you may be thinking: Clint, why the hell are you bringing that horrible day up?… I thought this was a preview of the upcoming Blue Jays series, not some depressing recap of the Braves’ worst team-wide performance of the year! 

I know, I’m sorry… I’ll get to the point. 

I bring up last Sunday because, despite Atlanta’s troublesome outlook just days ago, this team has certainly righted the ship. Sure, the Braves were beaten by six runs last night — by a score of 9-3 — as the Cubs’ offense teed off on starter Bryse Wilson for four runs from seven hits. But if you look at the way Atlanta has played in the three games before Thursday and after Sunday… this has been a hot team of late. In fact, from Monday to Wednesday, the Braves offense collectively posted twice as much fWAR than any other team in baseball, thanks to a team-wide 187 wRC+…

Team batting fWAR (April 26-28)

  • Braves — 2.0
  • Giants — 0.9
  • Yankees — 0.9
  • Nationals — 0.7
  • Twins — 0.7 

It hasn’t just been the offense, either. The Braves starting rotation — albeit a trio featuring only Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, and Charlie Morton — and its 2.55 ERA tied for the third-most WAR in MLB during those three days this week…

Team starting pitching fWAR (April 26-28)

  • Giants — 0.8
  • Dodgers — 0.7
  • Phillies — 0.6
  • Braves — 0.6
  • Rays — 0.6

On top of a surging lineup and dominant starting pitching, Atlanta’s bullpen held up its end of the deal too. In those three games — all against Chicago — Braves relievers combined for a 1.93 ERA to go along with 9.6 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 9 ⅓ innings. 

So while the team’s three-game winning streak was snapped on Thursday, don’t let a recent loss lead you to believe the Braves are down. With Atlanta currently involved in a three-way tie for first place in the NL East with the Phillies and Mets, this team is definitely trending up. 

As far as the Blue Jays, though, Atlanta has a chance to keep the momentum going on offense as the Braves will go up against one of the worst-performing starting rotations in baseball this weekend. Although, Toronto has done pretty well this season despite being forced to play all their home games at the team’s spring training facility in Dunedin, FL. Entering Friday’s game, the Blue Jays are third in the AL East at 11-12 and have won five of their last ten.

Game 1: Friday @ 7:37 PM / Bally Sports South

(0-1 / 7.20 ERA) Drew Smyly, LHP vs. (0-1 / 2.81 ERA) Robbie Ray, LHP

Game 2: Saturday @ 7:37 PM / Bally Sports South

(2-1 / 4.76 ERA) Charlie Morton vs. TBA

Game 3: Sunday @ 1:07 PM / Bally Sports South, MLBN

(2-0 / 2.48 ERA) Ian Anderson vs. TBA 

Collectively, the Jays’ lineup hasn’t been anything special, ranking in the bottom-10 in the MLB in runs (94) and right around average in wRC+ (91) entering Thursday. Toronto’s 1.5 fWAR on offense is the third-lowest total in baseball. However, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has broken out to the tune of seven home runs to go with more walks than strikeouts this season, giving him a ridiculous 218 wRC+ in 2021. And guys like Randal Grichuk (4 HR / 132 wRC+) and Bo Bichette (6 HR / 125 wRC+) are hitting the ball well. Plus, veteran Marcus Semien is scorching hot as of late, posting a 158 wRC+ in his last five games. This Blue Jays offense just got lead-off hitter George Springer back from injury, so despite some rather middling numbers on the stat sheet thus far, this is a pretty dangerous lineup. 

Toronto’s starting rotation hasn’t been awful, but its lack of longevity during games puts a ton of pressure on the bullpen; the Blue Jays 101 innings by its starters is the lowest total in MLB as of Thursday. The rotation as a whole ranks third from the bottom in fWAR (0.6), and it’s currently giving up the fifth-most home runs in baseball (1.6 HR/9). Really, it’s a bit surprising this Jays’ staff isn’t worse. After Hyun-Jin Ryu — who’s sporting a 2.60 ERA and just 0.98 BB/9 in five starts so far — the talent falls off sharply. I mean, Tommy Milone is — at times — part of this rotation, and guys like Steven Matz (5 starts / 4.00 ERA) and Ross Stripling (2 starts / 7.56 ERA) are getting hit around. Going into the 2021 season, it looked like Robbie Ray could be a solid no. 2 behind Ryu, and so far, Ray has a strong 2.81 ERA in three starts; however, his 5+ walks per nine have his FIP all the way up to 5.34, so he’s bound to regress at any time now unless he starts throwing strikes. 

It’s the bullpen that’s really holding the pitching together for Toronto, and as of Thursday night, Jays’ relievers were leading the majors with a 2.30 ERA to go with the fifth-most WAR (0.9). This is a bullpen that’s currently striking out 9.22 batters per nine and walking 3.32 per nine — both roughly average marks compared to the rest of the league, but a saving grace for Toronto given its starting pitching woes. Primary closer Julian Merryweather (14.54 K/9), along with Anthony Castro (11.05 K/9), Tyler Chatwood (12.79 K/9), and Milone — whose made four appearances out of the bullpen — are a quartet of relievers racking up the punch outs this season. Those first three guys, plus Tim Mayza, have all combined to pitch 25 ⅓ scoreless innings so far in 2021, so it’s probably a good idea for the Braves to avoid a battle of the bullpens with the Blue Jays. 

 

Braves injury report

Mike Soroka — As our own Jake Gordon reported on Thursday, Soroka has been cleared to start working towards a return, so after most likely a few Gwinnett outings (starting next week), we could see the righty back in Atlanta, hopefully before June. 

Max Fried — Scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday, Fried is trending towards returning to the Braves rotation next week, possibly next Tuesday or Wednesday against the Nationals if everything goes as planned. 

Chris Martin — Martin is also supposed to be back throwing bullpens, and according to Talking Chop, he’s expected to work a pair of simulated games at the alternate site soon, the same ETA as Fried. 

Sean Newcomb — the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Wednesday that Newk is set to return during the Blue Jays series this weekend, even as soon as the first game on Friday, according to a quote from Snitker. 

 

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