The Braves entered its off-day on Monday, riding high on its current two-game winning streak and series win over the Phillies at home over the previous weekend. In fact, Braves Country, in general, has this positive vibe over the last 36 hours. Winning two of three and making a couple of much-needed additions to the team — finally bringing back reliever Shane Greene and signing veteran Tanner Roark to a MiLB deal — tends to do that sometimes.
But starting on Tuesday, the Braves will begin a three-game series against a team — the Blue Jays — that crushed Atlanta’s vibe last time. Back in late April, the Braves were feeling good after winning three of four versus the Cubs. Atlanta went from outscoring Chicago by ten runs in that series to being outscored by Toronto by a score of 26-12 as the Blue Jays offense went wild against the Braves in Dunedin, FL. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they just took the wind out of our sails during that series.
At this point in the season, offensively, the Blue Jays and Braves are operating similarly. Toronto likes to mash home runs, whose 48 so far this season is just one less than Atlanta’s major league-leading total. And with those long balls comes a top-10 team-wide hard-hit rate, of which the Blue Jays 41% ranks just behind the Braves. Toronto doesn’t hit for a high AVG as the team is hitting just .239 thus far, though this season, no one’s running high AVGs. But with all of those homers, in combination with an offense that ranks third in the majors in fly-ball rate (39.6 FB%) and sixth in contact rate (76.6 contact%), you can see why this Blue Jays lineup is a dangerous one.
Top Blue Jays hitters (2021)
- *Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – .310 AVG, 7 HR, 1.6 WAR
- Marcus Semien – 8 HR, 125 wRC+
- Bo Bichette – 8 HR – 122 wRC+
- Randal Grichuk – 6 HR – 129 wRC+
*Vlad Jr.’s 1.6 fWAR above is tied for the sixth-most WAR in baseball
Though the Braves have obviously had its share of starting pitching issues, Jays’ starters have been hit even worse, especially since the two teams last met, which was on May 2. Spanning from May 3 to May 9, Toronto’s starting staff has pitched to a 7.26 ERA and allowed 2.32 home runs per nine in 31 innings. That rotation ERA is the third-worst in the majors in that span, and that unsightly homer rate is the second-highest. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s staff, albeit with a bit of luck, has managed baseball’s second-best ERA (1.47) during those eight days. Add the fact that the Blue Jays bullpen has barely been average during that time (4.18 ERA / 4.71 FIP), and the Braves should be able to score more runs against Toronto this time around.
Here are the pitching matchups for the upcoming series…
Game 1: Tuesday @ 7:20 PM / Bally Sports South
(3.14 ERA) Robbie Ray vs. TBD (Wright / Wilson?)
The 29-year-old Ray is coming off one of his best outings of the young season when, on May 5 in Oakland, he pitched six innings and allowed three runs from six hits to go with nine strikeouts (tied for a season-high). But even when the Blue Jays lefty is good, he’s still susceptible to the long ball, and in that start versus the Athletics, Ray allowed two homers. His most recent win was against the Braves, featuring Ray’s longest outing of the year (6 ⅔ innings). Against Atlanta on April 30, he allowed two runs from five hits with five strikeouts.
If the Braves followed its regular rotation in this series, this would be Max Fried‘s game to start, but according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, Atlanta has pushed Fried back to Game 2 on Wednesday to avoid starting Drew Smyly against Toronto (very good plan!). Bowman believes Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson will get another opportunity on Tuesday, or perhaps a bullpen game (not that it matters that much, but on Tuesday, it’s Wright’s turn in Gwinnett’s rotation). Regardless, at the time of this writing (Monday night), the Game 1 starter for the Braves is unknown.
Game 2: Wednesday @ 7:20 PM / Bally Sports South
(3.31 ERA) Hyun Jin Ryu vs. (8.44 ERA) Max Fried
I’d say Toronto is more than happy with its $80-million investment from December of 2019 as Ryu is coming off a top-three Cy Young performance in 2020. And though he’s pitched well this season, he’s certainly not as dominant, currently striking out one less batter per nine in 2021. However, one thing Ryu has continued this year is his ability to limit free passes. The veteran lefty has walked just four batters in 32 ⅔ innings this season, good for just 1.1 BB/9. The Braves missed Ryu during the team’s last series.
I know Fried wasn’t necessarily dominant in his first outing back last Wednesday, but his five innings against the Nationals was actually the best start of his 2021 season, per Game Score. In that outing, Fried struck out six and walked just one to go with one run (one HR) allowed from four hits for the win. It was a strong performance for a guy coming off an injury, and with him taking the bump at home on Wednesday, I expect an even better start for Fried this time around.
Game 3: Thursday @ 12:20 PM / Bally Sports South, MLBN
(6.61 ERA) Ross Stripling vs. (4.98 ERA) Charlie Morton
Stripling has only made four starts this season, totaling 16 ⅓ innings, although he’s already allowed 24 hits in that span, giving him a career-worst 1.898 WHIP. Despite pitching rather well in his last game versus the Braves (4 ⅓ IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 K), the veteran righty hasn’t been as sharp overall, so given Atlanta’s homer-happy offense, the lineup should have plenty of opportunities to come up with a big hit on Thursday.
Let’s hope Morton can both pitch better and have a bit better luck in Game 3 on Thursday. The veteran starter only got two outs in his last outing (vs. Philadelphia), allowing six unearned runs from four hits in the process. For a spell this season, Morton was one of the more consistent guys in the Braves rotation and could at least eat some innings. However, he hasn’t completed the 5th inning in a start since back on April 20, which was four outings ago. Morton still has the stuff, shown by his 10.5 strikeouts per nine this year, but he needs to find some consistency again. Hopefully, he’ll do that on Thursday.
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