After splitting a series in New York to begin the road trip, the Atlanta Braves will head to Cincinnati where they will begin another four-game series, this time with the Reds. Atlanta split a doubleheader with the Mets Monday, got a splendid performance from Charlie Morton on Tuesday, but faltered Wednesday as Kyle Wright struggled. They are 35-38 on the season and are five games back in the NL East race, having spent the last four days failing to make up any ground in the division.
The Braves continue to deal with injuries as Max Fried was placed on the injured list Wednesday due to a blister. Ronald Acuña Jr. was a late scratch from Wednesday’s lineup due to some lower back stiffness. Brian Snitker said that Acuña is day-to-day and didn’t have a further update following Wednesday’s game. Guillermo Heredia has missed the last two games due to a sore wrist. There is a chance that he and Acuña both could return to the lineup Thursday.
The Reds will come into the series with a 36-36 record and a third place position in the NL Central. Overall, they have been a streaky club in 2021. They began June with an 11-3 stretch but have since dropped five of six. Scoring runs hasn’t been a problem as the Reds’ offense ranks in the top 10 of the league in fWAR, runs scored and wRC+. Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker are having career-best seasons and have set the pace for them offensively.
Scoring runs might not be an issue, preventing them has been for Cincinnati. The Reds’ pitching staff ranked 15th overall in fWAR entering play Wednesday but their bullpen has been at the center of their troubles of late. Their relief corps ranks dead last in the majors with a 5.70 ERA and a 4.92 FIP. For some context, Atlanta relievers currently rank 26th with a 4.94 ERA and are 19th with a 4.28 FIP. Cincinnati’s relief corps is one of just three in the majors with negative fWAR to this point in the season.
Like most teams, the Reds are dealing with their own share of injuries with starter Sonny Gray, reliever Michael Lorenzen, infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Senzel all on the injured list.
Thursday, June 24, 7:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Brian Snitker confirmed after Wednesday’s game that the Braves will go with a bullpen game for Thursday’s opener. It isn’t clear yet who will get the start.
Tony Santillan (2 GS, 7.2 IP, 20.5 K%, 12.8 BB%, 4.70 ERA, 7.21 FIP, 6.11 xFIP, 115 ERA-)
The Reds will go with rookie right-hander Tony Santillan who will be making his third career start and will be looking to bounce back after a rough outing last time out. Santillan allowed five hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings in his debut against the Rockies. He wasn’t sharp, walking four batters and hitting two more, but did record five strikeouts. He allowed four hits, including a pair of homers, and three runs in just three innings last time out against San Diego. Santillan doesn’t have much of a profile to succeed in the majors besides throwing 95, but the Braves recently struggled to do damage against Jerad Eickhoff and Tylor Megill, so it’s hardly a fait accompli that they’ll punish Santillan.
Friday, June 25, 7:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Drew Smyly (12 GS, 61.2 IP, 20.2 K%, 8.6 BB%, 5.11 ERA, 5.74 FIP, 4.95 xFIP, 126 ERA-)
Drew Smyly will get the nod in Friday’s game and will be looking to build off one of his best starts in an Atlanta uniform. Smyly held the Cardinals in check while allowing just one hit over 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out five and walked three. Smyly has now allowed three runs or less in four straight starts and hasn’t allowed a homer in two straight.
Vladimir Gutierrez (5 GS, 28.0 IP, 18.9 K%, 11.5 BB%, 3.86 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 5.65 xFIP, 94 ERA-)
The Braves will see another young fireballer Friday in Vladimir Gutierrez who will be making his sixth start of the season for the Reds. After allowing two runs or less in each of his first four starts, Gutierrez allowed eight hits, four walks and five runs to the Padres in five innings last time out. He has gone at least five innings in all five of his starts this season. Gutierrez has had trouble making his fastball work in a major league capacity, but has three usable secondaries that can make him a pain for opposing hitters to face despite a weak primary.
Saturday, June 26, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Ian Anderson (14 GS, 75.2 IP, 25.2 K%, 8.9 BB%, 3.33 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 82 ERA-)
It has been an up and down month for Ian Anderson but he is coming off of a good performance against the Mets in his last start. Anderson held New York to just three hits over 5 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader. He has mixed in a pair of scoreless outings in between a pair of starts where he failed to get out of the fifth while allowing four runs.
Luis Castillo (15 GS, 77.0 IP, 21.4 K%, 9.5 BB%, 5.61 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, 137 ERA-)
2021 so far has not been kind to Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, but he may be showing some signs of turning things around. Castillo posted a 6.29 ERA in April and then an 8.04 ERA in May. Things have looked a little better in June where he has a 2.19 ERA through four starts. His ERAs were far worse than his xFIPs in both April and May, but in June, he’s just been very good across the board. Castillo allowed six hits and two earned runs over six innings in his last start in San Diego. He has faced the Braves three times in his career and has allowed six earned runs in 14 innings.
Sunday, June 27, 1:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Charlie Morton (15 GS, 80.2 IP, 27.4 K%, 8.3 BB%, 3.68 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 91 ERA-)
Another pitcher who appears to be rounding into shape is Charlie Morton. Morton was lights out in his last start against the Mets allowing just one hit and two walks in seven scoreless innings. He struck out a season-best 11 and has 18 over his last two starts combined. Morton made a mechanical tweak earlier this month and the results have been good as he has seen an uptick in velocity and spin while rates around the league are dropping.
Tyler Mahle (15 GS, 78.1 IP, 30.2 K%, 8.0 BB%, 3.56 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 87 ERA-)
The Reds needed Tyler Mahle to build off of his 2020 performance and so far, he has been up to the task. With 1.9 fWAR, he’s basically been a top 20 starter in MLB thus far. He wasn’t sharp in his last outing where he allowed five hits and three runs in just four innings against the Twins. Still, he has allowed a total of 10 runs in June and has piled up 34 strikeouts against just seven walks in 23 innings this month.