It certainly is an exciting time to be a Braves fan. In the midst of the MLB Draft (we got you covered here) and Kimbrel and Keuchel Watch updates (we also got you covered on that, too), the Braves have quickly seen their fortunes turn for the good on the field over the past few days.
When I wrote the game preview on Saturday, the Braves were coming off a three game losing streak to two teams with losing records and were three games behind the Phillies in the NL East. Three days later, two Braves wins combined with three losses by the Phillies have resulted in an opportunity for Atlanta to be in sole possession of first place in the division by the end of the night. A big factor was Mike Soroka and Julio Teheran continuing their highly effective stretches of pitching. However, the big reason the Braves have returned to their winning ways is the offense.
And that should come as no surprise. The Braves are simply taking advantage of their strengths, and they will look to continue doing the same Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The specific strength being referred to is the Braves elite offensive production against southpaws. I have mentioned this before, but it continues to be a relevant point. The Braves scored 17 runs over the past two games against Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. Of their 59 games this year, Atlanta has faced a lefty starter 15 times. While it may not happen that often, the Braves are well on their way to finishing more than 10 games above .500 versus lefties on the season. That could play a significant role in a tight NL East division race as the season progresses.
The Braves will face another lefty tonight in Steven Brault (5.87 ERA, 5.52 FIP, 5.69 xFIP). Brault has been used primarily as a reliever in his four MLB seasons, but has made multiple starts each year he has been in the majors. Tonight will be his fourth start in 2019, and the initial results have been suppar. Brault has produced a 5.28 BB/9 rate in 2019, and has combined that with career highs in LD% and Hard Hit% rates allowed. The end result has been a few rough outings, though Brault’s record stands at 2-1 on the season. He has received good run support in his three starts, and the Pirates will likely have to find some offensive success again tonight. If Brault yields multiple walks, it will benefit the Braves as they will see good pitches to hit with runners on base.
Atlanta will send their own southpaw, Max Fried (3.19 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.52 xFIP), to the mound to face the Pirates. While Fried has experienced a bit of expected regression since his dominant start to the season, he stands at a 7-3 record in the midst of his breakout campaign. Fried was a bit shaky in his last start, a loss to the Nationals in which he matched season highs in hits allowed, earned runs, and walks allowed. It arguably was his worst start of the season (the inning outing versus the Dodgers not included).
Thankfully, there could not be a much better matchup on paper for Fried to regain his high rate of success. In 2019. against left-handed pitching, the Pirates rank 27th in the majors in OPS, 28th in ISO, and 27th in wOBA. The key for Fried will be limiting the success of Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds at the plate. If he can find success against that duo, the chances are very good that he will have another great outing.
As they were on paper against the Tigers, the Braves should be heavy favorites to win this game. If they can keep their approach simple, and execute good at-bats with runners on base, Atlanta hopefully will earn its third straight victory.
WPA - Josh Donaldson - The man is due. The variables in my algorithm are hope and faith, and I have an abundance of both in terms of Donaldson tonight. I look forward to being wrong, but sure as heck will brag to the heavens if I am right.
Atlanta Braves @ Pittsburgh Pirates
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
7:05 pm EDT
PNC PARK, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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)