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Three things to watch for the Braves’ upcoming series in Baltimore

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Atlanta will be looking to extend their six-game winning streak.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves will make the final stop on their nine-game road trip this weekend when they match up against the Baltimore Orioles in a three-game series at Camden Yards. The Braves have won the first six games of the trip and have won 10 straight games on the road overall. At 65-56, they have opened up a four game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.

As hot as the Braves have been, the Orioles are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Baltimore has the worst record in the majors at 38-82 and will enter the series having lost 15 straight games. The last time the Orioles won a game was on August 2 against the Yankees.

Freddie Freeman surging

A lot of factors have gone into the Braves’ resurgence down the stretch, but one of the biggest has been the play of Freddie Freeman. On May 31, Freeman was hitting .235/.364/.464 with 12 homers. Since then, Freeman is hitting .347/.424/.558 with 15 home runs. He is 13-for-25 with three home runs on the current road trip and recorded his second career cycle (and the Braves’ first since he also did it back in 2016) in Wednesday’s win over the Marlins.

NL East Race

Atlanta has taken care of business of late against the lower tier of the NL East, sweeping both the Nationals and Marlins. With a pair of West Coast trips still on the schedule, the Braves can’t afford to let up this weekend in Baltimore. The Mets are 4-6 over their last 10 games entering Thursday, when they will begin a four-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. The Phillies have lost four straight and were just swept by the last-place Diamondbacks. They will begin a three-game series in San Diego Friday.

The schedule is going to turn quickly for Atlanta and they need to build as much of a cushion as they can.

Cedric Mullins’ emergence

Not much has gone right for the Orioles this season, but one thing that has is the emergence of outfielder Cedric Mullins. The 26-year old is hitting .314/.376/.535 with a 149 wRC+. He is 22 for 29 in stolen base attempts and has been worth 4.7 fWAR. Mullins’ wOBA of .388 has outperformed his .353 xwOBA significantly, but that shouldn’t damper what has been an excellent season overall. The best part for Baltimore: Mullins won’t even be arbitration-eligible until the 2023 season.

Here is a look at the pitching matchups for the series.

Friday, August 20, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Max Fried (20 GS, 109.2 IP, 24.4 K%, 7.3 BB%, 3.78 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 84 FIP-)

Max Fried will get the call for Friday’s opener and he has been lights out through three starts in August. Fried allowed five hits and one earned run over six innings in his last start against the Nationals. He has allowed a combined two earned runs over his last 18 innings and has 19 strikeouts and just two walks over that span.

Keegan Akin (17 G, 10 GS, 58.2 IP, 19.6 K%, 8.7 BB%, 8.13 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 4.98 xFIP, 108 FIP-)

Keegan Akin will start opposite of Fried in the opener and will be making his third straight start since rejoining the rotation. It hasn’t gone well so far for Akin or the Orioles as he has allowed a combined 13 hits and nine runs in just seven innings in his two previous starts this month. 2021 has been something between a disappointment and a disaster for Akin, who turned some heads with 25 impressive innings in 2020, including shutting out last year’s powerful Atlanta attack for five innings. This season, his command has fallen by the wayside, and he’s been knocked around as a starter, although he’s been better in relief.

Saturday, August 21, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Drew Smyly (21 GS, 106.0 IP, 21.0 K%, 8.3 BB%, 4.50 ERA, 4.92 FIP, 4.61 xFIP, 118 FIP-)

Drew Smyly will take his turn on Saturday and will be looking to get back on track after a rough start to August. Smyly lasted just four innings in his last start and allowed six hits and three runs. He has allowed a combined 14 hits and eight runs in 14 innings in August and hasn’t made it past the fourth inning in two of his last three starts. Amusingly, Smyly’s had some of his best peripherals of the season so far in August, but the results haven’t been there, and his overall line on the season is still pretty underwhelming.

Matt Harvey (24 GS, 108.0 IP, 17.0 K%, 6.7 BB%, 6.25 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 4.80 xFIP, 103 FIP-)

The former Dark Knight, Matt Harvey will get the start for the Orioles Saturday. Like most of Baltimore’s rotation, it has been a rough season for Harvey overall who will carry a 6.25 ERA into Saturday’s start albeit with a 4.57 FIP. Harvey allowed five hits and five runs in just 4 2/3 innings in his last start against the Rays. That snapped a stretch of five straight starts where he had allowed three runs or fewer. For a guy whose career looked toast four years ago, Harvey’s done a good job bouncing back in 2021, and his 103 FIP- is solid; his ERA is inflated by an awful strand rate.

Sunday, August 22, 1:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)

Touki Toussaint (6 GS, 33.2 IP, 25.0 K%, 7.9 BB%, 4.01 ERA, 5.13 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 123 FIP-)

With Ian Anderson nearing a return, Sunday’s start is a big one for Touki Toussaint. Toussaint was lights out in his first two starts of the season allowing a combined two earned runs over his first 13 2/3 innings. He was then tagged for seven runs in a loss to the Brewers but has recovered in August, allowing two runs in each of his last three starts while logging at least five innings. He allowed three hits, two runs (both solo homers) and struck out seven over 6 1/3 innings last time out against Miami.

John Means - (18 GS, 102.0 IP, 23.0 K%, 4.2 BB%, 3.44 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 4.38 xFIP, 107 FIP-)

Left-hander John Means will get the start for the Orioles Sunday and results-wise, Means has pretty much been the lone bright spot in their rotation this season. Means posted a 2.28 ERA (4.20 FIP) over his first 12 starts before going on the Injured List with a strained shoulder. In six starts since returning, Means has a 6.10 ERA (6.01 FIP) in 31 innings. He lasted just four innings in his last start, allowing eight hits and four earned runs against Tampa Bay.