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Braves begin final road trip of first half by visiting the Pirates

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After getting the game-winning hit on Sunday, Max Fried will pitch on Monday for the Braves as they face the Pirates.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

A day after winning a wild one at home against the Marlins, the Braves are back on the road again as their quest to reach-and-go-over the .500 mark for the first time in 2021 finds them in Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates.

I’m going to be real with y’all: If the Braves are not either at or over .500 by the time this series ends, it’ll be a major disappointment. The Braves have had their fair share of struggles this season, but in the grand scheme of things when it comes to baseball, they are a middle-of-the-road team at the moment. The Pirates, on the other hand, have been spending most of this season in the doldrums. They did win on Sunday, but that only made them 3-7 over their last 10 games and that Sunday victory only saved them from being swept over a four-game home series against the Brewers and snapped a six-game losing streak that included getting swept at Colorado.

So while the Pirates are heading into this series on a high note, the Braves have a chance to send them back down to Earth with a win tonight. The Braves also have an opportunity to continue what’s actually been a really strong stretch for them since June 17. Starting with that day when they shut out the Cardinals 4-0, the Braves have pitched six shutouts over 19 games and have held their opponents to three runs or less in 11 of those games. Over that same stretch, fWAR (2.5 as a staff) has the Braves rated as the second-best pitching staff in all of baseball and the best in the National League. Over 151 IP during that stretch, the Braves are sitting on a 3.04 ERA (75 ERA-) and a 3.61 FIP (89 FIP-). That’s an example of small sample sizes being put to work, but it could also be a sign that this rotation and the bullpen may finally be turning things around after spending the large part of April and May wandering around in the wilderness of bloated ERA.

Sunday’s walk-off hero Max Fried has only made two starts during the aforementioned span of games, but they’ve been solid starts. On top of that, Fried has a start under his belt against the Pirates from earlier this season and it went very well for them. If Fried can find a way to continue the good run he’s been on over his past two starts and keep things going like he did back on May 23 against Pittsburgh, then this has the potential to turn into a good night for both Fried and the Braves. He’s got the talent and he’s on a good run, so it’s all a matter of execution against a Pirates lineup that has been pretty bad — both during the aforementioned stretch since June 17 (81 wRC+) and overall (once again, 81 wRC+).

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s lineup has been a little better over that span (97 wRC+, which isn’t exactly great!) and overall. With that being said, this year’s Braves haven’t had too much of a problem scoring against the Pirates. Back in May, the Braves didn’t score fewer than four runs in any of the four games they played and that included Atlanta’s first 20-run game of the season. So if the Braves can keep their offense going from yesterday, then Pirates starter Chase De Jong could be in for a long day, figuratively. He probably won’t have a long day in a literal sense, as he’s usually made it either deep into the fourth inning or only through five full innings here in 2021. If he goes any deeper than that, it’ll be a huge shock and the Braves lineup will have probably gotten it all wrong against this guy.

Basically, this game is a rare instance where the Braves should go into this game feeling pretty confident about their chances. It’s been a rough year for Atlanta relative to expectations, but they can at least take solace in the fact that they still figure to be better than the Pirates. Again, it would be disappointing if the Braves didn’t come out of this series either at or over .500 and they should be heading into this game (and the next two, for that matter) locked in and trying to start this road trip off on a high note. Let’s get the job done, fellas.