A lot of previously unthinkable things have happened this season. The Braves are (still!) first in the division, clinging to a slim half-win lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. Nick Markakis is on a monster tear. Ozzie Albies has more extra-base hits (25) than singles (20). The Braves have an eight-game road winning streak; they’ll try to push that to nine with a win in Miami tonight.
Lost in the shuffle of all the unexpected stuff is that veteran Brandon McCarthy has not had a very good start to his season. If the season ended right now, he’d have posted his worst FIP (aside from a four-start injury-shortened season in 2015) since 2009. McCarthy has suffered poor ball-in-play luck (.342 BABIP-against; an 0.018 underperformance of his xwOBA-against) and fly ball luck (19.2 percent HR/FB-against), but he also just plain hasn’t pitched too well. An FIP- of 116 is problematic, though there’s some hope that with reasonable outcomes on fly balls he can pitch more to the tune of his 98 xFIP-, which would be in line with his 2017 xFIP levels. In short, though, McCarthy’s results have left something to be desired: aside from a couple of blow-ups, he’s basically had relatively decent-but-not-great outings each time. He’s yet to have a scoreless outing, an outing longer than six innings, an outing with more than six strikeouts, or an outing where he doesn’t walk a batter.
All of this kind of came to a head last time out, when he was “blasted” by a procession of dinks and dunks originating from the bats of the San Francisco Giants. McCarthy lasted just three and a third, allowing 12 hits (.647 BABIP-against!), one walk, and eight total runs. He did allow a homer and only struck out too. In terms of results, it was by far his worst start of the year (Game Score version 2 of 4!) and his worst start since April 2007, when he allowed six runs, including three homers, in two innings. Anyway, I wont hold that blow-up against him since that entire series was kind of a disaster, but McCarthy also hasn’t shown the kind of contact management that makes his profile work. His wOBA-against and xwOBA-against were in the .290s-.300s in 2017 and 2016; even in his injury-shortened 2015 his xwOBA was only .313. Yet, he’s been allowing a .346 xwOBA and a .364 wOBA to date, and that’s not a recipe for success. Hopefully he’s able to improve on that mark against the Marlins.
Facing the Braves tonight will be one of the Marlins’ more-recognizable names: Dan Straily. Straily has always been somewhat of a mystery to me — he was a popular darkhorse breakout candidate a few years ago due to some great separation between his fastball and changeup and a tendency to get out ahead of certain pitching curves, like pitching to generate fly balls and pop-ups in lieu of the traditional walks-and-strikeouts approach. Despite all that, he didn’t really have good results aside from his 2013 season (which was more average than good) and then another average-y effort last time out. Charlie Morton, he is not, which is what made it all the more confusing when the Marlins traded three prospects for him last offseason. (What’s notable here is that Luis Castillo, one of the prospects traded for Straily, has actually been better and more valuable than Straily since the trade, so it’s basically an “lol Marlins” situation all around, here.)
In any case, Straily started his 2018 on the Disabled List, courtesy of an arm injury that was reported as an elbow strain, forearm tightness, and forearm inflammation. Since returning, his results have been straight-up awful. He’s made two starts, lasting just four innings in each. He’s allowed six total runs, three homers, eight walks (!!), and collected just three strikeouts. His FIP- through those two starts is a whopping 267, and his xFIP- is an eye-popping 197. So, if he bamboozles the Braves, you’ll know why. Or, if the Braves mash him into oblivion, you’ll know why. Weirdly enough, the Marlins actually won both of those games, because baseball is dumb and marvelous. Also, Straily has allowed a .491 xwOBA in those two starts, so that’s “no bueno.” It’s an opportunity for the Braves, but don’t be surprised if he bounces back, because no one can probably be as bad he has been for a long stretch without hitting the Disabled List or AAA again.
The Braves have a long history with Straily. They faced him a whopping five times in 2017. The Braves went 2-3 in those games; Straily allowed a total of 14 runs (12 earned) in 25 innings in his outings. The starts ranged from the very good (six and a third innings of four-hit, shutout ball with eight strikeouts) to the very bad (five runs in three innings, with two homers and four walks allowed, in his last start against Atlanta), with three more generic outings mixed in. Straily had only faced the Braves once before 2017, when they pounded him for six runs in 2016 during his Reds tenure.
McCarthy, meanwhile, faced the Marlins twice last year as a member of the Dodgers’ rotation. In May, he allowed one run in six innings; in July, he allowed four runs in four and two-thirds. One of McCarthy’s four career shutouts has come against the Marlins, but that was all the way back in 2013.
Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins
Marlins Park, Miami, FL
7:10 pm EDT, May 11, 2018
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network