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Max Fried, Braves look for sustaining encore against Cardinals

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Last night helped the Braves stay marginally alive. Can they keep it up?

Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

Last night, the Braves won for just the second time in eight games, thanks in large part to a dominant pitching performance by Charlie Morton. With their season still in “mostly dead is slightly alive” straits, they’ll try to make it two in a row over the Cardinals, as Max Fried faces off against Carlos Martinez.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Fried so far, as he’s combined dominant outings with underwhelming stretches. He was very solid iif not great after returning from injury (59 ERA-, 68 FIP-, 98 xFIP- across six starts, with just one bad-result start mixed in), but got punked by the Marlins his last time out, allowing two homers and another non-homer run with just a 4/2 K/BB ratio in six innings of work. On the season, Fried has an un-Fried-esque 114 ERA-, 103 FIP-, and 103 xFIP-; this is also the first seasonal line he has since 2018 where the quality of contact he’s allowed (xwOBA) has crept above the performance estimated by his peripherals.

One funny (not ha-ha funny) thing about Fried’s 2021 is that his struggles have arguably been from too many pitches in the zone, whereas when his career started, the opposite was more the culprit. Out of 118 pitchers with 50 or more innings thrown this year, Fried is top 30 in zone rate and 35th-lowest in z-contact. That explains the declining whiff rate, but there are some other things going on as well — namely that it appears that Fried’s attempts to somewhat fix the natural, undesirable sink on his four-seamer have also led to his breaking pitches not dropping as much, which may be self-defeating.

The Cardinals will counter with Carlos Martinez, for whom “up-and-down” season is an understatement with regards to 2021. After an awful 2020 (-0.2 fWAR in five starts), Martinez started 2021 poorly as well, but then had a stretch of three “good” starts that still featured weak peripherals. Then came a stretch of four bad starts, culminating in the terrible “allow 10 runs while only getting two outs” outing against the Dodgers on June 2. That was followed by the reverse of what Martinez had done previously, an outing with great peripherals (7/1 K/BB ratio) but bad results (five runs in four innings), which brings us to his most recent outing, arguably his best of the year: seven innings, two unearned runs, a walk, and six strikeouts against the Cubs. Overall, Martinez has a pitching triple-slash of 143/100/119, and it’s not too surprising that the Cardinals have gone 4-8 in his starts. It’s a pretty good matchup for the Braves, so if they play to type (something they’ve struggled to do this season overall), maybe they can reel off a second consecutive win.

The Braves’ playoff odds are still below 15 percent for the moment, and they’re 6.5 games back in the division (including two back of the Phillies). Maybe they’ll get it going for real one of these days; with over 40 percent of the season in the books, time is running out.

Game Info

St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, June 18, 2021

7:20 pm EDT

Truist Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network (out-of-market), MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: Ch. 89