Braves: Three keys to Kyle Wright having success in Game 3

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Thanks to four scoreless innings from Ian Anderson and another excellent performance from the offense, the Braves won Game 2 Tuesday night versus the Dodgers to take a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. That’s back-to-back solid outings by Max Fried and Anderson, but now it’s Kyle Wright‘s turn…

Wright has never faced the Dodgers, and at this point, he’s made just one postseason start in his career — coming last Thursday in Atlanta’s NLDS elimination game versus Miami, when the 25-year-old tossed a three-hit quality-start to help push the Braves into the NLCS. However, for four consecutive outings now, the righty has been stronger than ever. Just check out his game logs since Sept. 13:

  • 9/13 @ WSN – 6 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
  • 9/20 @ NYM – 6.1 IP, H, 0 ER, BB, 6 K
  • 9/25 vs. BOS – 6.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
  • 10/8 – vs. MIA – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

TOTAL – 25 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 8 BB, 21 K

If rate stats are more your thing, that’s a 1.80 ERA, 7.56 strikeouts per nine, and 2.88 walks per nine over his last four starts, including a 3-0 record. That’s some solid pitching, and it’s a good thing because Wright has a tough task on Wednesday, faced with a critical Game 3 assignment versus the mighty LA offense — a type of lineup he has yet to pitch against in 2020. Other than his starts versus the Mets, Wright hasn’t faced an offense as talented as the Dodgers in 2020. New York’s 122 wRC+ tied LA’s for the regular season, but the other five opponents he faced combined to post just a 104 wRC+.

So entering perhaps the most significant and difficult start of his big league career, here are a few keys for Wright’s big outing on Wednesday…

 

Lean on what works

For a pitcher to have turned around his season the way that Wright has in 2020, he obviously had to make some changes. Not only did the righty tinker with his pitch-mix throughout the season, but he also adjusted where he stands on the rubber, moving more to the first-base side around the beginning of September. The turn-around has been impressive as Wright finished up 2020 by posting a 2.37 ERA with just a .164 AVG allowed in his final three outings (starting Sept. 13), compared to an 8.05 ERA and .312 AVG during his first five starts of the year. One thing that has helped, when looking at his pitch usage, is that Wright started leaning on his sinker, making it his most-used pitch in his final two outings of the regular season. He also incorporated his two breaking balls more evenly. And it makes perfect sense when looking at his pitch splits for the 2020 season, going by opponents AVG:

  • Sinker – .200 AVG
  • Curveball – .214 AVG
  • Slider – .257 AVG
  • 4-seam – .316 AVG (.526 SLG%)

In Wright’s three-worst starts this season (7/28 vs. TBR, 8/14 @ MIA, 9/8 vs. MIA), he either committed to his slider too much or simply leaned on the sinker without mixing in any of his breaking stuff, throwing it nearly 50% of the time. Neither approach worked very well as he failed to make it out of the fourth inning in each of those three outings. It appears his sweet spot is when he’s going with the sinker 30-35% of the time while evenly mixing in his curve and slider against both righties and lefties. Obviously, there’s no single way to attack various opposing lineups, and in 2020 Wright has essentially tried it all. However, there definitely seems to be a much more positive trend in his performance when he’s basing everything off that 94 MPH sinker. If the sinker is working effectively in Wednesday’s start, there’s a good chance that Wright puts together a solid outing.

 

Get through the third inning

It’s pretty normal for a starting pitcher to start losing a bit of effectiveness once facing a lineup for the second time. Good hitters tend to make adjustments, and as we’re well aware, the Dodgers have several good hitters. But that second time through the order has been especially tough for Wright as he posted a 9.39 ERA to go along with an opponent’s OPS of .966 in the third inning of his starts during the 2020 regular season. That sort of decline in performance can’t happen on Wednesday, for it will force manager Brian Snitker to prematurely dip into the Braves bullpen.

Snitker had to blow through six relievers in the team’s win Tuesday, and several were important arms like Tyler Matzek (for two innings), Chris Martin (one inning), and Mark Melancon (0.1 inning). Ideally — especially if Game 4 winds up being an elimination game — Atlanta wants to be able to use all their high-leverage relievers to help ensure a series win. However, a short outing by Wright will make that much more difficult, not to mention that a poor start could result in a loss Wednesday. TLDR: the Braves need more than three innings from Wright in Game 3. 

 

Let the defense help

Despite Fried’s nine-strikeout gem on Monday in Game 1, and the fact that Anderson was able to strikeout five LA batters in just four innings in Game 2, Wright doesn’t have to be perfect Wednesday. He doesn’t need to do it all by himself.

Save for a bobble at second by Ozzie Albies in the late-innings of Tuesday’s win, and a few insignificant blunders by Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson in previous games, the Braves defense has been strong so far this postseason, and there’s no reason to expect that to change. Wright just needs to keep the walks to a minimum and let the defense behind him do what they do best. The worst thing he can do is start trying to nibble too much, leading to unnecessary base runners. Lead-off walks and two-out walks will be extra-costly against a lineup as dangerous as LA’s, and if Wright begins pitching around guys, a few two or three-run homers could spell disaster. If he’s making his pitches and the Dodgers are making consistent contact, then so be it. Snitker can always get someone else in there (hopefully) before things get out of hand. 

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