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Braves seek split with Muller making second career start

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But Tyler Mahle is a tough cookie

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets - Game One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Well, the Braves’ playoff odds are down to around 10 percent, which makes plenty of sense given that they’re once again four games under .500, and six games back in the division. The best they can do today is to earn a split with the Reds, their second split of a four-game series in a row (and their third in June), while improving to five games back. The worst they can do is to slide further into irrelevance.

The man on the hill hoping to avoid that further decline will be Kyle Muller, making his second career start. The Braves didn’t win Muller’s first career start, but he did reasonably well, allowing one run in four innings with a 3/2 K/BB ratio. If Muller can do better, awesome. If not, well, hopefully the bats go to work. I imagine that if Muller can’t give the Braves a bunch of innings (and arguably, it’d be better for their win expectancy if he doesn’t), you might see a healthy dose of Tanner Roark, who was called up before the series but hasn’t gotten into a game yet. Beyond that, the Braves should have quite a lot of bullpen arms available, as a bunch of relievers haven’t pitched in two days, and a few others (A.J. Minter, Edgar Santana) haven’t pitched much at all lately.

Probably the bigger problem for the Braves at this point is that the offense has been fairly weak lately, and they have to face Tyler Mahle on top of that. The offense is now 13th in wRC+ (ninth if you exclude pitchers), but they’ve slipped to 16th (both with and without pitchers) in June. It’s mostly the same story, with one of the biggest underperformances of their xwOBA in baseball, still plaguing the team; the main difference between pre-June and June is that the inputs have been worse in June but the level of underperformance is about the same. Fun times.

Also fun times: trying to get a win against Tyler Mahle. The 26-year-old was pretty mediocre or worse up through 2019, as he struggled with the home run ball (despite a nice 90 xFIP- in 2019), but flipped the script by becoming a fly ball pitcher with very good effect 85 FIP-/103 xFIP-) during last year’s shortened season. 2021, though, has been mostly Mahle putting it all together: 87 ERA-, 79 FIP-, 85 xFIP-. That adds up to 1.9 fWAR, making him a top-25 starter in baseball. Unlike many hurlers, Mahle’s fastball is a legitimate weapon in and of itself, rather than just something he throws because he can’t throw his other pitches (slider, splitter) all day; he’s filled up the zone with all three pitches this year and struck out a lot of guys in the process, as they have to contend with three offerings he can throw for strikes, and a fastball with two-plane movement at that.

Mahle didn’t fare well in his most recent outing, allowing three runs (including a homer) in three frames against the Twins, though he still struck out eight (and walked three) in the process. In the outing before that, he struck out 12 Brewers in six one-run innings. Basically, the Braves are going to have to figure something out to have a chance, or hope that Mahle’s off today or something. (He’s had a notable spin rate drop since the whole goo check became a reality, but it hasn’t really affected him pitching-wise.)

Game Info

Atlanta Braves @ Cincinnati Reds

Sunday, June 27, 2021

1:10 pm EDT

Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH

TV: Bally Sports Southeast, MLB.tv

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

XM Radio: Online / Ch. 183