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Boyd stands between Braves and series win

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You may not know about Matthew Boyd, but you will.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Do you know about Matthew Boyd? I’ll admit, I more or less didn’t, not until this year. He’s actually been around a while, throwing nearly 460 major league innings before this year. However, those innings were so nondescript as to be nearly blank: Boyd posted a 117 ERA-, 112 FIP-, and a 114 xFIP- in his career up until this season. In any of his past four seasons, he hadn’t posted an FIP- below 101 or an xFIP- below 111. His 2017 looked like an above-average year, but his homer rate regressed back to something more normal in 2018, and he started looking like a humdrum starter again. Don’t get me wrong: humdrum starters are fine, valuable, and useful. They’re just not very interesting.

But, it’s not 2015 through 2018 anymore, and Matthew Boyd is anything but humdrum at this point. Like many breakout pitchers, he’s severely de-emphasized his sinker and curveball this year, instead attacking hitters with either a fastball or a slider 85 percent of the time. His fastball isn’t particularly hard, but has evolved to generate more arm-side fade; he’s added more glove-side run and a lot more drop to his slider. The results have been overwhelming — Boyd is currently third in fWAR, and first in the American League, at 2.5. Among all starters with 20 or more innings this season, he’s top 20 in ERA-, sixth in FIP-, and 20th in xFIP-. He has the 12th-highest strikeout rate, 23rd-lowest walk rate, is tenth in K/BB, and bottom 30 in homer rate allowed. The actual numbers look good (2.85 / 2.80 / 3.53). The minus-basis numbers look good (64 / 61 / 78). He’s striking out nearly 30 percent of batters he faces, and only walking about five percent. His average Game Score (v2) this season is 63; only two of his 12 starts so far have been below-average by this measure, and only three total have come in below 60.

In short, yes, of course the Braves want a series win. But, it won’t be easy. The Braves do have a few saving graces: Boyd has a pretty traditional platoon split, and his 3.64 xFIP against righties so far this year (compare to an eye-popping 2.80 against lefties) suggests he can at least be made to bleed. (He’s also not yielded a single homer to a lefty this year.) Beyond that, you can get to Boyd, if you take him out of the park. In mid-May, Boyd had his two worst starts of the year, back-to-back, allowing seven runs in 10 13 innings. He allowed two homers in each of those starts. In fact, he’s allowed at least one homer in five of his 12 starts; it’s the starts in which he doesn’t allow homers (big revelation, I know) that his numbers get gaudy. If the Braves’ righties can drive the ball in the air this afternoon, they might be able to upend his routine of success. If they can’t, well, you know...

Boyd’s last two starts have come against the Marlins and Orioles, and he’s eviscerated them, as expected. He allowed zero runs and just one walk in each start, while striking out seven Fish and eight Birds. Overall, expect few walks (his season high is three) and a lot of strikeouts (he averages over seven per start), but hope the Braves scratch some runs across and the pitching and defense keep it close.

Speaking of the pitching, the Braves will send Julio Teheran to the hill as Boyd’s opponent. After a span of looking somewhat different earlier this year, Teheran is Teheran-ing once again: 3.53 / 4.49 / 4.97 on the year, or 80 ERA-, 105 FIP-, 115 xFIP-, which looks a lot like his career 91 ERA-, 107 FIP-, 107 xFIP-. Teheran kinda-sorta had a string of good run prevention snapped his last time out, as he allowed three runs (though just one was demarcated as earned) in five frames against the Cardinals. While three runs in five frames isn’t the worst thing ever, it was his ugliest start of the year on a peripherals basis, as he posted four walks to just one strikeout. Before that, however, Teheran had allowed just two runs in his past four starts, with better (but not great) peripherals (a combined K/BB ratio of 18/11). It was the best run-prevention stretch of his career. As far as another personal best, Teheran has now gone five starts without allowing a homer, a trend the Braves will hope extends long enough to afford them a shot to win this game.

The Braves haven’t lost a home series to the Tigers since 2007, when they were swept and held to just one run in three games by Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, and (yes, that) Andrew Miller. Here’s hoping that streak continues today, and the Braves find a way to turn the tables on this pitching matchup. Or, perhaps Julio Teheran can channel the mojo of his final start of 2016, when he struck out 12 Tigers and allowed just one walk and three hits in seven scoreless frames to end that particular season.

Game Info

Detroit Tigers @ Atlanta Braves

Sunday, June 2, 2019

1:20 pm EDT

SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: XM 186 (Streaming 841)