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Braves look to keep the momentum going against Miami

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Atlanta is just 2-5 against Miami this season.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Coming off of a big series win over the New York Mets, the Atlanta Braves will be looking to keep their momentum when they begin a three-game series Friday against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park. The Braves took two of three against the Mets to improve to 39-41 on the season. Despite not spending a day above .500, they are just 3.5 games back of the division lead entering play on Friday. Atlanta has won two straight and six of 10 overall and are 22-21 at home this season.

The Braves have dominated the Marlins head to head in recent seasons but are just 2-5 so far versus Miami in 2021. If they hope to hang in the division race, that is something that is going to have to change soon.

Ronald Acuña Jr. was a late scratch from Thursday’s lineup due to some lingering back soreness. He later entered the game as a pinch hitter and played the final couple of innings. He should be good to go on Friday, but the situation with his back is something worth monitoring with the All-Star Break approaching. Acuña and Freddie Freeman were both voted in as starters for the National League on Thursday. Acuña is hitting .407/.500/.926 with three home runs in seven games against the Marlins this season. He’s also in the thick of the NL MVP race, as he trails just Fernando Tatis Jr. (and Jacob deGrom!) in fWAR so far this season.

The Marlins arrive at Truist Park with a 34-45 record and are in last place in the NL East standings, despite both the best run differential and the most team fWAR in the division. (Braves are second in run differential and third in team fWAR behind the Mets.) They have gone 4-6 over their last 10 games and split an abbreviated series in Philadelphia after Thursday’s game was rained out. This is largely the same Marlins team that the Braves saw a couple of weeks ago, along with the return of Garrett Cooper and Miguel Rojas from the injured list.

Since Thursday’s game was rained out, Miami hasn’t confirmed their pitching plans for the weekend beyond Pablo Lopez moving back a day. Trevor Rogers was originally scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale and would be available if Miami wants to shake things up a bit. Given that Rogers has been incredibly dominant and one of the best hurlers in baseball this season, let’s hope they don’t.

Friday, July 2, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Pablo Lopez (16 GS, 91.0 IP, 25.8 K%, 6.0 BB%, 2.87 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, 76 ERA-)

Pablo Lopez was scheduled to start Thursday’s series finale in Philadelphia before it was washed out. He will move back a day and start Friday’s series opener against a Braves team that he hasn’t had a lot of success against. Lopez has faced Atlanta twice this season and has allowed 15 hits and 10 runs in just seven innings across a pair of starts. He allowed six hits, two runs and struck out nine in six innings during his last outing against the Nationals.

Lopez’ performance against the Braves is kind of a weird change of pace — he’s dominated most teams he’s faced this season, but been destroyed by Atlanta in two starts. He’s been a top 20 or top 25 starter so far this season regardless of whether you look at FIP or ERA, yet the Braves have beaten up on him, and hopefully they’re able to do so again on Friday.

Drew Smyly (13 GS, 67.2 IP, 19.7 K%, 7.9 BB%, 4.79 ERA, 5.42 FIP, 4.95 xFIP, 118 ERA-)

After a rough start to the season, Drew Smyly turned in a solid June, posting a 2.84 ERA over five starts. The biggest difference for Smyly came in keeping the ball in the ballpark as he allowed just two homers in 25 1/3 innings. Compare that to April where he allowed nine in his first 19 innings. Smyly hasn’t allowed a homer in three straight starts and has gone at least five innings in each. That really is pretty much the only difference; he has an identical xFIP between his June and his pre-June stretches. He faced the Marlins back on June 13 and allowed six hits and two runs over five innings.

Saturday, July 3, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Zach Thompson (4 GS, 18.0 IP, 34.2 K%, 8.2 BB%, 1.50 ERA, 1.71 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 40 ERA-)

The Braves got their first look at Zach Thompson a couple of weeks back in what was supposed to be a bullpen game of sorts for the Marlins. Thompson ended up tossing five scoreless innings while allowing just four hits to go along with six strikeouts. He has allowed just one earned run since and struck out a career-high 11 in his last start against the Nationals.

Kyle Muller (3 G, 2 GS, 10.0 IP, 32.5 K%, 10.0 BB%, 2.70 ERA, 1.76 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, 66 ERA-)

After two straight solid outings, Kyle Muller will stick in the Braves rotation for another start on Saturday. After allowing four hits and two runs while making his Major League debut, Muller has allowed just two hits and one run over nine innings across two starts. He has struck out 12 across that span and walked just two. Muller allowed just one hit and struck out nine across five scoreless innings in his last start against the Reds.

Sunday, July 4, 1:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Sandy Alcantara (17 GS, 106.2 IP, 21.7 K%, 6.8 BB%, 3.12 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 82 ERA-)

Like Smyly, Sandy Alcantara is coming off of a strong June performance, although he did struggle a bit in his last outing. Alcantara allowed six hits and five runs, although only four were earned in 5 1/3 innings in his last start against the Nationals. He gave up two homers after having allowed just one in his previous five starts. Alcantara faced the Braves back on June 11 and picked up a victory after allowing five hits and two runs over six innings. Alcantara is yet another starter that has been incredibly tough on opposing hitters so far — all three of Lopez, Rogers, and Alcantara are in the top 35 pitchers in baseball by fWAR this season.

Charlie Morton (16 GS, 86.2 IP, 27.5 K%, 8.0 BB%, 3.74 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 92 ERA-)

Charlie Morton had his scoreless innings streak snapped in his last start when he allowed a three-run home run to Mets catcher James McCann in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss. Despite that setback, Morton has allowed nine hits and just those three runs over his last 20 2/3 innings. He has struck out 25 hitters during that span while walking just three. Morton has struggled in two starts this season against Miami, allowing a combined 11 hits and nine earned runs in just 10 innings.