Happy Friday. Or, more importantly, Happy Cristian Pache Debut Day.
Atlanta enters Friday with a 14-11 record, and are currently 1.5 games ahead in the NL East standings. Though the Braves have experienced a plethora of unfortunate injuries, they also have managed to navigate arguably the toughest part of their schedule with a winning record. That is no small development, as with just 35 games left in the season, every game against a divisional opponent becomes more significant. If the Braves can continue winning, or even splitting, upcoming series with their NL East rivals, their chances of a third straight NL East title will continue to increase.
While their success so far this season has been a pleasant development, the amount of significant injuries, as mentioned above, has certainly made an impact. The Braves starting pitching situation, in as positive of terms as possible, is uncertain going forward. Atlanta’s lineup has also been downgraded due to ailments that have impacted Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Nick Markakis. Fortunately, the Braves have managed to keep their ship steady instead of sinking.
Despite their many misfortunes, the near future may contain some positive vibes. While no timetable is set as of yet, it does seem Acuna Jr., Albies, and Markakis will all return in the coming weeks. Furthermore, due to the need for depth, these injuries have resulted in the opportunity for the Braves number one prospect, Cristian Pache, to make his major league debut Friday night.
While Pache draws a tough opening match up in Nola when he is at the plate, he should offer needed and immediate value in other ways. With the struggles of the Braves’ starters, adding another elite fielder in the outfield is certainly a positive. With the likelihood that two of Ender Inciarte, Adam Duvall, and Pache will be starting most games until some of the aforementioned regulars return to health, the Braves defense should be quite good. Hopefully, that will be a remedy to help prevent big innings and Atlanta falling behind early in games started by anyone not named Max Fried.
When Mike Soroka was lost for the season, Fried immediately was viewed as the Braves’ ace for the rest of the 2020 season. And that is exactly how Fried has pitched. Fried (1.24 ERA/ 2.38 FIP/ 3.39 xFIP) currently ranks third in the majors in ERA, and has only allowed two earned runs over his past four starts, including zero runs over his past two outings. Though numbers suggest Fried has been a bit lucky, he is generating more ground balls than last year and has yet to yield a home run. Though Fried will likely regress a bit in time, he certainly has become reliable in putting the Braves in a good position to win each time he takes the mound.
A familiar face will take the mound for the Phillies, as their ace, Aaron Nola, looks to continue his good career work against the Braves. Nola (2.05 ERA/ 2.30 FIP / 1.94 xFIP) has fewer wins, a higher ERA, and the same fWAR total (1.1) has Fried. However, advanced numbers suggest he has been even more impressive than his Atlanta counterpart. Nola is second in the majors in xFIP and fourth in K/9 rate, and is arguably working through the best start to a season and one of the best stretches overall in his career. This includes a start on August 10th against the Braves, when Nola went eight innings, allowing only two hits, one walk, one run and producing ten strikeouts.
Tonight will actually be Nola’s 20th career start against Atlanta, and he has certainly looked like an ace against them. In 121 1⁄3 career innings, Nola is 11-5 with a 2.82 ERA, and has limited Atlanta’s hitters to a .637 OPS. His previous success against the Braves, combined with the fact that he truly is performing as a top five pitcher in the game this season, likely makes tonight one of the tougher match ups Atlanta will face the rest of the season.
However, a silver lining could emerge for the Braves if Fried can keep the Phillies’ offense under control. The Phillies’ bullpen has produced a 8.07 ERA this season, last in the majors. Yesterday, they squandered a seven run lead in a 9-7 loss to Toronto. The Braves also had plenty of success against them earlier this month. With the Braves bullpen as a known strength, the Braves have to like their chances in a close game.
Overall, Atlanta has their work cut out for them. The Braves offense must also limit the strikeouts and hopefully work some good at-bats against Nola. If the offense can find some success, Fried and the bullpen can simply do what the they have done all season to earn the victory.
WPA - Cristian Pache - Go Big or Go Home!
Game Date/Time: Friday, August 21, 7:10 p.m. ET
Location: Truist Park, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, ESPN
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network