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Cubs, Fried come full circle as Braves take aim at Alzolay

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One pitcher makes his first start of 2019, while another hopes to recapture his magic from the same

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Max Fried made his first start of the season against the Chicago Cubs, and the six scoreless, walk-less, one-hit innings he threw constituted one of his best outings so far. Tonight, the Cubs will get another crack at him as they send another youngster, 24-year-old Adbert Alzolay, to the hill for his first major league start. The Braves dropped last night’s contest to lose their first game to the Cubs this season, but have three better-on-paper pitching matchups for the remainder of the series.

Max Fried had a very strong start to 2019, stringing together four impressive outings in April to solidify a spot in the Braves’ rotation. Since then, however, his results have been more mixed, with a smattering of stifling performances and clunkers all churned together. His last two outings are a good microcosm of this: on June 14, he didn’t make it out of the fifth after surrendering five runs, including two homers, to the Phillies, in one of his worst outings of the year; five days later, he followed that up with one of his best starts of the year against the Mets, with just two runs yielded in six frames to go with a 6/1 K/BB ratio (and no homers!).

On the year, Fried has a 91 ERA-, 92 FIP-, and 84 xFIP-. Somewhat amusingly, up through June, he was outperforming his FIP and xFIP both; over his last few outings, his ERA and FIP have (temporarily, is my guess) drifted above his xFIP while converging themselves:

Will Fried string together back-to-back strong starts for the first time in a month? That’s one key question for tonight’s contest.

Another key question is how well the marvelous Atlanta bats will handle Adbert Alzolay, who will be making his first major league start on Tuesday night. Ranked the Cubs’ fourth-best prospect with a 45+ FV coming into this season, Alzolay made his first big league appearance five days ago in a win over the Mets. In that outing, he relieved four innings of Tyler Chatwood with four innings of his own, allowing just a solo homer and two walks while striking out five. The home run and walk actually came to begin his fifth inning of work that night, so it seems likely that he’s prepared to go at least five innings tonight.

Alzolay features a powerful fastball/curveball mix that has generally rated as well-above average by prospect-focused publications. Even so, he hadn’t really put it together in the minors until earlier this season, when he posted a wild 31.7% K%-BB% across six starts at Triple-A, and so, here he is, grabbing a start in what’s been the majors’ 10th-best rotation by fWAR to date.

The Braves haven’t won a season series with the Cubs since 2014, though they do have two 3-3 marks since then, but can secure such a victory by beating them tonight.

As a minor note, Max Fried’s first career start actually came at Wrigley Field, back in September 2017. The Braves won the contest, as Fried allowed one run in five frames on a solo homer while walking three and striking out four. The guy who homered off Fried in that outing, Ian Happ, has spent all of 2019 so far in the minors after spending most of 2017 and all of 2018 with the big-league Cubs.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves @ Chicago Cubs

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

8:05 pm EDT

Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network

XM Radio: XM Streaming 841