The Braves won a rain-shortened game on Thursday, earning a victory over the Reds in the first game of a four-game series. Tonight they will turn to Kevin Gausman, who has pitched to mixed results since his return from the injured list last week. Opposing the right-hander will be a familiar foe in former-Brave Alex Wood, who was drafted by Atlanta in 2012. Will the Braves be able to solve the left-hander in just his second start with the Reds?
The Braves have seemingly exorcised the demons that haunted them a week ago, winning five-of-seven games since suffering a two-game sweep by the Royals. In earning a win a night ago, Atlanta got six strong innings from Max Fried before rain abbreviated his outing and ended the game. The Braves hope for a similar performance from Gausman, who was battered by the Phillies in his most recent outing. The right-hander was victimized by a grand slam that put the game out of reach for Atlanta, but an inconsistent strike zone throughout the game made for a difficult confluence of factors.
Gausman carries a 3-6 record with a 5.97 ERA into tonight’s game, though a 4.15/4.47 FIP/xFIP suggests that bad luck may be partly to blame for those struggles. An extremely low strand rate could be the culprit, as Gausman is currently allowing 15% more baserunners to score than his career average. Some positive regression over the remainder of the season may be due for the right-hander, which would be a welcome sight for a rotation that has needed stability from the back-end for much of the season.
As noted above, the Braves will face Reds left-hander Alex Wood as he returns to the town in which he made his major league debut. Wood was sidelined for the first four months of the season with a lower-back injury, but returned on Sunday against the Rockies with two runs allowed in 42⁄3 innings of work. For those unfamiliar with Wood, he features a sinker, curveball, and changeup that come from a funky, deceptive delivery. Wood generally works in the low-90’s with the fastball, and relies on inducing ground balls when pitching at his best. His career ground ball rate is just under 50%, so forcing Wood to work up in the zone could be the key to solving the former Georgia Bulldog.
The Braves are obviously familiar with Wood from his time in the organization, but the lineup is also flush with experience against the left-hander. Tyler Flowers (7-for-11), Freddie Freeman (6-for-14, HR), and Nick Markakis (6-for-13) each have enjoyed success in previous matchups. Only Jose Iglesias and Curt Casali have more that ten at-bats against Gausman among players on the Reds current roster, so familiarity should not be an issue in those matchups.
The Braves now sit seven games ahead of the Phillies and Nationals, with three games remaining against the Reds. Atlanta has an opportunity to build on some recent momentum, and will hopefully see an improved Gausman after a rough outing last weekend.