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Rested Smyly gets the nod as Braves start weekend hop in Milwaukee

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The Braves will take aim at Adrian Houser after being swept by the Jays again

MLB: MAY 06 Braves at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With an off day this past Monday, the Braves rejiggered their rotation, recalling Bryse Wilson for Tuesday’s game, and giving Max Fried and Charlie Morton an extra day of rest. This also had the effect of pushing Drew Smyly’s outing to tonight, against a Brewers team that is far less homer-happy than the Blue Jays. In a macro sense, the move didn’t work out: the Braves were swept by the Blue Jays for the second time this season, are now three games under .500 (again), and are once again heading out on the road in the hopes of clambering back up the playoff odds precipice before the ground under their feet completely founders.

To that end, this weird three game, one city road trip is actually kind of a big deal. The Braves have fallen long and hard down the playoff ladder, and while they should worry more about getting back to .500 than the standings per se (though their sub-30 percent playoff odds coming into play today are the lowest they’ve yet experienced this season), doing some serious damage against the Brewers could really help staunch that particular bleed. Why? Because the Brewers have come out playing pretty well (20-18), and while they trail the Cardinals in the Central by three games, they are currently a pretty big impediment to the Braves getting a playoff spot. According to Fangraphs’ playoff odds, if everyone plays as projected to the end of the season, the Brewers and Cardinals will end up tied in the Central, with the loser getting the second Lightning Round spot. Knocking the Brewers back and wedging themselves into that projected 85-win range is pretty important for the Braves.

As for the Brewers themselves, well, you’re going to see a team that’s very different from the Braves this weekend. Atlanta’s paired average position player performance and some real bad pitching into their 17-20 record; the Brewers have one of the worst offenses in MLB but have pitched and fielded themselves to success thus far. To wit: the Brewers have the league’s seventh-lowest xwOBA and fifth-lowest wOBA, along with the fourth-lowest wRC+, which only improves to sixth-worst if you exclude pitchers hitting. While they’ve been nothing special defensively when you account for positioning (-1 team OAA), they’re a top 10 team by DRS, UZR, and Statcast’s “estimated success rate” and “success rate” metrics. And, of course, their starting pitching has been phenomenal, top five in each of ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-, with the best xFIP- and fWAR marks in baseball. If they do have a run prevention weakness, it’s been a bullpen without a lot of good performances behind Josh Hader and out-of-nowhere-effective-so-far-reliever J.P. Feyereisen. The Braves’ relief corps actually has a higher fWAR and a similar xFIP to that of the Brewers.

What does this all mean for tonight? Well, who knows? Drew Smyly’s been awful so far, but he should be well-rested, is coming off a not-awful start against the Nationals, and is facing a team that hasn’t hit for much power (18th in MLB in homers, 22nd in ISO). On the flip side, the Brewers have actually hit lefties very well, and Smyly’s problems have arguably been far more about Drew Smyly than about his opponents.

Meanwhile, the Braves will try to change their fortunes by taking hacks against Adrian Houser. Mostly a swingman to date, 2021 is Houser’s first season with an undiluted crack at the rotation, and he’s pitched pretty well: 87 ERA-, 102 FIP-, 79 xFIP- in seven starts. Like Smyly, he’s been tormented by the longball, with a 26.3 percent HR/FB; among pitchers with 20 or more innings this season, Houser’s HR/FB is the fifth-highest, and Smyly’s is 13th. Unlike Smyly, Houser has been effective otherwise, yielding more than three runs just once this season. He’s coming off a 10/0 K/BB ratio start against the Marlins where he allowed two runs in six frames. Houser throws mostly sinkers, and the very right-handed Braves lineup can probably expect to be pounded down-and-in with the sinker the way Justin Choi described in this recent article on this offering.

So, will the Braves and Smyly get back on the horse they’re gonna ride to a fourth straight playoff appearance tonight, or will Houser wear them down with devious sinkers? Stay tuned and find out.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves @ Milwaukee Brewers

Friday, May 14, 2021

8:10 pm EDT

American Family Field (oy), Milwaukee, WI

TV: Bally Sports South

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

XM Radio: Ch. 186 (Brewers), Online (Braves)