The Braves have one more series until the official “first half” of the 2021 season draws to a close. They’re currently 42-44, tied for third place in the NL East, 4.5 games back of the Mets, with playoff odds between 10 and 15 percent, or poking a tiny bit higher than that if you use a system that thinks more highly of their talent. It’s not a good place to be, and it smarts even more given that the Braves come into this series having gone just 3-3 against the Pirates and Marlins in their last six games. It is, at this point, more or less the same old story — the Braves need to get on a roll, they don’t get on a roll, and instead just tread water, with the water level rising just a bit with every game. They haven’t drowned yet, but if little changes, it’s coming.
While the Braves did win two of three from the Marlins back in Atlanta last weekend, they needed an improbable ninth-inning rally, and a pinch-hit two-out single from Max Fried (!) to do so. That game was started by tonight’s scheduled arm for Atlanta, Charlie Morton, and for him, it was that also that same old story — Morton gave up a big hit when facing the order the third time through. Last Sunday, Morton had cruised through five innings: seven strikeouts, two walks, a sole run allowed on a sacrifice fly. But, due to face 2-3-4 in the Miami attack in the sixth, Morton allowed single, single, three-run homer to Adam Duvall — the second time in two starts he had allowed a no-out, three-run homer while facing a lineup the third time through — and the Braves were suddenly in a 4-2 hole. While that game ended well, you really start to wonder when the Braves will start recognizing their team-wide decision-making issues, especially now that they’ve made themselves manifest in two consecutive Morton outings.
To be clear, though, Morton has mostly been money this season. He now has 1.8 fWAR and a sparkly 96 ERA-/86 FIP-/83 xFIP- line. He’s almost on a 4 fWAR per 200 innings pace, and while he likely won’t get there, he could get close if he avoids hitting the shelf for the remainder of the season. To do so, though, the Braves will probably need to limit his exposure in a way they haven’t yet: Morton’s xFIP climbs from 2.77 the first time through to 3.66 the second time through, and up to 4.46 the third time through. Hopefully the Braves and Morton don’t reap that particular whirlwind on Friday night.
Morton’s mound opponent tonight will be the same one from that Sunday contest: Zach Thompson. A minor league free agent this offseason, Thompson has straight-up killed it: 0.8 fWAR in just five starts, 59 ERA-, 55 FIP-, 86 xFIP-. When he faces the Braves tonight, it will be his third start against them in six career outings; the Braves are 1-1 in those games so far, and Thompson has allowed just three runs in 11 innings to the Braves, along with a highly delicious 12/1 K/BB ratio. Ronald Acuña Jr. did tag him for a homer last Sunday, but the Braves are probably going to have their hands full again dealing with Thompson’s cutter and curveball (his fastball is nothing special and he could probably stand to throw it less).
In any case, this is a rematch in basically every sense from the last time these two teams faced each other. Maybe it’ll even have the same result. The Braves sorely need it, but it’s hard to frame this as a situation where they’re overwhelmingly favored — after all, the Marlins still have more WAR-wins than the Braves so far in 2021, and not just by a small margin.
Friday, July 9, 2021
7:10 pm EDT
loanDepot park, Miami, FL
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network
XM Radio: Online / Ch. 185