The Atlanta Braves will head back out on the road Tuesday when they will begin a six-game road trip with a three-game stop in Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. Despite completing a 2-3 homestand, the Braves have closed to within just half a game of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East standings. The Phillies have lost five straight and will continue a three-game series in San Diego Tuesday night after dropping the opener 8-2.
The Pirates come into the series struggling, having lost two straight and seven of 10 overall. They have slumped to a 28-30 record and are five games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central. Though the Pirates aren’t even last in their division, they have the third-worst run differential in the NL and have been blown out (lost by a deficit of five runs or more) in 15 of their 58 games so far this season. (By comparison, the Braves have only been blown out seven times.) Their roster hasn’t had many bright spots, as they have spent this season with a below-average offense and an average-at-best pitching staff despite really strong performances from Jordan Lyles, Trevor Williams, and Joe Musgrove in the rotation, as well as Felipe Vazquez in the bullpen.
One player who isn’t struggling is first baseman Josh Bell who is hitting .371/.422/.758 with 12 home runs over the last 30 games. Bell hit 12 home runs all of last season but has rediscovered his power stroke. Rookie Bryan Reynolds has been productive but is also one of the luckiest players in baseball so far.
Here is a look at the pitching matchups for the series.
Tuesday, June 4, 7:05 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast)
Max Fried - LHP (2019: 13 G, 11 GS, 62.0 IP, 21.9 K%, 6.3 BB%, 3.19 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 3.53 xFIP)
Max Fried struggled with his command while allowing a season high nine hits, three walks and four runs in his last start against the Nationals. He will have the benefit of two extra days of rest thanks to a pair of off days. Tuesday’s start will be Fried’s first career appearance against the Pirates.
Steven Brault - LHP (2019: 9 G, 3 GS, 30.2 IP, 18.8 K%, 13.0 BB%, 5.87 ERA, 5.53 FIP, 5.60 xFIP)
Steven Brault began the year in Pittsburgh’s bullpen but recently returned to the rotation and is coming off one of the best outings of his career. Brault shut out the Reds over 5 1/3 innings while allowing three hits and striking out five in his last start. He has allowed just six hits and two runs over his last 11 innings. However, he’s only had two outings all year where he hasn’t allowed a run or even been effective.
Wednesday, June 5, 7:05 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast)
Kevin Gausman - RHP (2019: 11 GS, 55.0 IP, 23.6 K%, 9.5 BB%, 5.56 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 4.44 xFIP)
Kevin Gausman will be looking to put an ugly outing behind him when he takes the mound Wednesday night. Gausman allowed eight runs in just one inning in his last start against the Nationals. It has been a bit of a strange season for Gausman whose ERA is inflated at 5.56 but still possesses some solid peripheral numbers (3.68 FIP). He has been dominant at times and pedestrian at others. The Braves need him to find some consistency and he was really good against Pittsburgh last season, limiting them to just one earned run over 14 innings.
Joe Musgrove - RHP (2019: 12 G, 11 GS, 65.0 IP, 18.6 K%, 6.9 BB%, 4.57 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 4.60 xFIP)
The Pirates will counter with right-hander Joe Musgrove on Wednesday. Musgrove got off to a good start this season posting a 1.64 ERA through five April starts. However, May was a different story where he allowed 27 earned runs in 30 innings pitched. He was tagged for 11 hits and five runs over six innings in his last start against Milwaukee. The reversal isn’t a case of regression to peripherals, either, as Musgrove managed a 2.52 FIP / 3.90 xFIP in April but only a 4.85 FIP / 5.41 xFIP in May, with a K%-BB% in the latter month less than a third of his April mark.
Thursday, June 6, 12:35 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Southeast)
Mike Foltynewicz - RHP (2019: 7 GS, 38.1 IP, 19.2 K%, 4.8 BB%, 6.10 ERA, 6.67 FIP, 5.06 xFIP)
Thursday’s series finale will feature two young right-handers who are looking to regain their form. For the Braves, Mike Foltynewicz was unable to build off of two previous strong outings, allowing seven hits and five runs in five innings last time out against the Tigers. He allowed three more homers in that start and has now surrendered 13 in 38 1/3 innings pitched this season. Only one player with as many or more innings as Foltynewicz has allowed homers at a greater rate so far this season (Dan Straily); no National League pitcher is even close to his 3.05 HR/9 mark. Folty’s fastball velocity is slowly creeping up but he is still battling command issues and that has led to his struggles.
Chris Archer - RHP (2019: 9 GS, 47.2 IP, 22.2 K%, 12.3 BB%, 5.66 ERA, 5.60 FIP, 5.17 xFIP)
For the Pirates, Chris Archer is looking to live up to the hype after the Pirates dealt away some major prospects in the hope that he could solidify their rotation. It hasn’t been pretty so far. Archer picked up a win but allowed five hits and four runs over seven innings in his last start against the Brewers. He has allowed four runs or more four of his last five starts. Walks have been an issue as has missing bats and opponents have taken advantage of having those extra men on base. This is by far his worst season so far, and he hasn’t had a good outing since his third start of the year. He’s been replacement level by fWAR, below replacement by RA9-WAR, and has actually gotten somewhat lucky in terms of wOBA allowed relative to xwOBA allowed.