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Can Fried fry Fish as Braves go for sweep?

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Hopefully, yes, though Miami’s Pablo Lopez stands in the way.

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

With Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 victory in Miami, the Braves have assured themselves another .500-or-better road trip and their third consecutive series win against the Marlins this season. The Braves are 7-1 against the Marlins so far in 2019, a fact that’s helped them keep pace in the playoff chase, as the Phillies have gone 5-2 against the division’s worst team. The Braves will look to add an eighth (and seventh consecutive) win against the Fish to their ledger on Sunday afternoon, as well as complete their second sweep in Miami this season before they return home for a 10-game homestand that will feature a clash for the top of the division.

Atlanta’s starter as they trawl for a sweep will be Max Fried, who started out near-dominant and has stumbled of late. One way to describe Fried’s season so far is the below — a seemingly-inexorable progression of his runs allowed tally towards his peripherals:

However, that simple narrative belies the more complex game-to-game reality of Fried’s performance. It’s not that he’s simply been getting worse, as you can more or less tell from the above lines, given an xFIP trending down even as an FIP trends up. Through April 21, Fried held a 1.38 ERA, 3.18 FIP, and 4.16 xFIP; he finally allowed his first homer of the year on that date. He then allowed four homers over his next three starts (one good, two very bad), bringing his season line to 2.97 / 3.76 / 3.57. His next three starts went somewhat better, bringing his line to 2.88 / 3.70 / 3.34... but then the last two have been tough.

First, Fried got knocked around by the Nationals at home, allowing four runs and failing to escape the sixth. He didn’t allow a homer, but walked three batters for only the second time all season. It wasn’t his worst start or anything, but it wasn’t good. His line probably would have looked better had his exposure been more limited, but he walked in a run while facing the Nationals’ leadoff hitter for a fourth time in the same game as his final result, which is highly unideal in every sense.

Unfortunately, Fried did not rebound at all from that rough outing his next time on the hill, as the Pirates torched him from the get-go. Fried allowed four runs in the first and another in the second, though in highly stupid fashion, as all of the hits against him to start the game were low-probability drives, including a homer by eternal Atlanta nemesis Melky Cabrera. In short, while the .341 xwOBA Fried allowed in the start wasn’t good, he was torched to the tune of a .494 wOBA, which is brutal. While he did throw in two scoreless innings to end his four-frame affair, it’s probably something he wants to bounce back from. The Marlins are a weak offensive team in general, but they’ve been even worse against lefties to date, so that should help.

On the year, Fried currently holds an 84 ERA-, 92 FIP-, and 85 xFIP-, all solidly above-average despite the recent struggles dragging them down. His .308 xwOBA-against ranks 108th-highest among the league’s top 150 or so pitchers in batters faced, i.e., just outside the top 60 in terms of mitigating contact quality (along with walks and strikeouts).

Fried has yet to face Miami this year, as he’s somehow missed them in both of the prior series the Braves have played with the Fish this year. He also missed them entirely in 2018, though two of his first four career starts, all the way back in 2017, actually came against the Marlins. Those starts were a mixed bag: a combined eight runs in eight innings, but with a cool 10/2 K/BB ratio. Still, that’s ancient history at this point, especially with the Marlins re-shuffling their playbill every season.

Meanwhile, the Braves are going to be facing Miami’s scheduled starter, Pablo Lopez, for the third time already this season. Lopez’ history against the Braves is basically a microcosm of his 2019 season in general: sometimes he’s good, sometimes he’s not so good. His second start of the year was part of the not-so-good variety, as the Braves put together a four-run fourth with two homers off of him (Ronald Acuña Jr., Tyler Flowers) for the only runs scored in the game. Lopez lasted five innings with a 5/1 K/BB ratio in that one. But, the following month, Lopez turned on a dime and shut out the Braves for six innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out six — the Braves scored immediately after he left the game, as Nick Markakis homered against the first non-Lopez Marlin to throw a pitch, and won the game 3-1. That’s really been Lopez’ season in general: he’s had one of the worst 2019 starts I’m aware of, a 10-run shelling with three homers allowed in three frames against the Mets... and then followed that up in his very next start against the same Mets by one-hitting them for seven innings.

On the year, of Lopez’ 12 starts, five have resulted in a Game Score (v2) of 60 or more, another four have fallen in the 40 to 60 range, and three have gone really poorly, including the one against the Braves. His overall line looks somewhat similar to Fried’s: 110 ERA-, 91 FIP-, 90 xFIP-, .300 xwOBA-against (111th-highest among that same group of 150 pitchers). The difference has largely been sequencing and not defense/ball-in-play variation, as Lopez has one of the lower strand rates among starters but has no notable wOBA-xwOBA gap. He’s coming off two good starts against the Giants and Brewers, where he’s allowed just a single solo homer and no other runs (and just six other hits) over 12 innings with a combined 12/2 K/BB ratio, but given how his season has gone so far, he seems about as likely to carry that success over as he is to self-immolate or have a perfectly humdrum outing. It’s not that this erratic tendency is particularly new, either: in 2018, the Braves torched him for six runs in mid-August, and then scored just one run off of him two weeks later, on my birthday (but still won the game).

Despite being a fastball-sinker-curveball-changeup guy, he has been much tougher on righties, probably because his curveball has some extra glove-side break that makes it somewhat slurvy.

Also, don’t forget! Fried actually did factor into a decision against the Marlins this season: he scored the go-ahead run in extra innings — this was the game that Lopez started and stymied the Braves in — after pinch-running for Josh Donaldson in the tenth. Will Maximum Speed Fried’s baserunning acumen play a factor in this game? Tune in and find out.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins

Sunday, June 9, 2019

1:10 pm EDT

Marlins Park, Miami, FL

TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv

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

XM Radio: XM Streaming 841