Losing the season opener? Not fun. Losing the season opening series? Less fun. Being one of only four teams to be winless on the young season? Straight-up lame. At least the Nationals are right there too. In any case, the Braves will get a third bite at this particular apple on Sunday night, as they complete their season-opening series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
As part of their “augh everyone is hurt” rotation reshuffle, the Braves will be sending rookie Kyle Wright to the mound for his first career start. Wright did manage to grab six major league innings at the tail end of the 2018 season, but all of them came in relief, and he didn’t exactly sparkle, with more walks than strikeouts and a couple of dingers yielded. Still, that’s not exactly relevant for his future outlook, especially not compared to his mid-3.00s FIPs and xFIPs in Double-A and Triple-A last year. Expectations aren’t super-high for Wright, both with this being his first start and projections that aren’t super-hot on him (he’s was projected as putting up #4 starter-ish numbers before the season), but given the fact that the Braves’ pitching has yielded 18 runs in two games, it also can’t get much worse than it already has been.
Wright will be opposed by Jake Arrieta, who is starting his second year in a Phillies uniform. His first year went... okay. Arrieta compiled 1.9 fWAR, on the back of a 103 FIP- and 100 xFIP-, which is about as average as you can get. Of greatest concern for him and the Phillies was a dip in his strikeout rate and his ability to miss bats: since his ridiculous 2015 season, his whiff rate has fallen and fallen, and changing teams did nothing to arrest that descent. Even emphasizing his slider and changeup at the expense of his sinker and curveball, as he did last year, did not reverse the trend. nor gaining over 1 mph on the sinker over 2017.
While you might hear irritating narratives tonight about Arrieta fading down the stretch last year, that’s largely just noise. He actually posted a lower xFIP and higher strikeout rate in the second half. In particular, commentators might want to tell you about how awful his last nine starts were, but he mostly just got stung on some homers while having an elevated strikeout rate and the same walk rate during that season-concluding stint. Basically, don’t write him off just because he gave up some runs (in large part due to a 23% HR/FB) at the end of the year. He’s still... okay.
Despite logging 170-plus frames in 2018, Arrieta only managed to face Atlanta twice last year. The first time, in May, he had one of his better starts of the year, hurling six and two-thirds scoreless while allowing just eight baserunners as the Phillies cruised to a 4-0 win. But, the Braves got their revenge by beating him as they clinched the NL East on September 22, as Arrieta had arguably his worst start of the season — just two innings and a 3/2 BB/K ratio. Three walks and a Johan Camargo single in the first gave the Braves a lead they’d never relinquish, and some singles added insult to injury in his second inning of work. The rest is history.
But, really, all of this is history. The only question really is — after today, will the Braves being winless in 2019 be history as well? Or will the misery continue for another day?
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
7:05 pm EDT
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
TV: ESPN (sigh, is MLB.tv still blacked out for ESPN games?)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network