Atlanta welcomes Arizona to Suntrust Park for the first game of a three-game series Tuesday night.
The series offers some fun opportunities for everyone. For one, it is the annual Dave Stewart appreciation night (unofficially). For another, it is the rare occasion the top two teams alphabetically in Major League Baseball face each other on the schedule.
Beyond that excitement, there is the natural joy of getting to see Max Fried take the mound. Fried has dazzled in his first two starts, as in 13.2 innings, he has allowed one unearned run, three walks, and six hits with nine strikeouts. While overall he was a bit less dominant versus the Rockies than the Cubs, he was effective none the less. Fried has been the Braves’ most consistent starter so far this season.
Speaking of consistent, the Braves lineup has been exactly that over the past two weeks. With both Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna Jr. starting to see the results match their efforts, the Braves lineup has been on a roll. They currently are third in the majors in OPS and wOBA. The Braves also are first in BB% and second in OBP. This shows that not only is Atlanta being productive when putting the ball in play, they are being quite efficient with their plate appearances overall.
This has occurred despite an early season insistence on Ender Inciarte as the lead off hitter. However, Brian Snitker finally seemed to see the light over the weekend, as Ozzie Albies should remain in the top spot for the foreseeable future. While there is certainly credible logic to Acuna Jr. filling that role, the improved plate production from Albies so far this year has earned him the spot. As a result, both he and the Braves should benefit from the results.
Hopefully, the offense will continue to produce tonight against Arizona starter Robbie Ray. Ray comes into tonight with a 1-1 record, along with a 3.52 ERA and 3.27 FIP. He has 22 strikeouts on the season to 11 walks. He also has allowed just 7 hits so far this season. The observations one could make about him from a 15-inning sample size must be kept in context. However, in the case of Ray, these numbers perfectly reflect his production from the past few years.
Since 2017, for any pitcher with 275 or more innings pitched, Ray is third in the majors in K% and first in fewest hits allowed. However, he is tied for the highest BB% over that time in the majors as well. If Braves fans have watched Ray pitch before, his efforts may seem familiar. That is because the pitcher he is tied with for highest BB% is Sean Newcomb. In fact, Newcomb ranks fifth in this same group for fewest hits allowed. The obvious difference between Ray and Newcomb in terms of effectiveness is Ray’s elite strikeout ability helps him better hide his flaws.
While both Fried and Ray have been pitched well to begin the season. both of them will have a tough test tonight. Since the start of 2018, both Arizona and Atlanta rank in the top ten in baseball in wOBA, OPS, and ISO versus left handed pitching. In fact, Arizona is 4th overall in the majors this season in ISO overall. However, the Diamondbacks’ lineup currently is 29th in the league in BB%. If Fried continues to throw strikes and keep the ball in the park, it will definitely give Atlanta a good chance to win.
Furthermore, if the Braves can show their patience and get hitter’s counts frequently, it should result in a high pitch count early for Ray. That works out in the Braves’ favor as well. For one, it removes one of Arizona’s better arms from the game. It also means Atlanta will face one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Arizona relievers actually have a higher FIP and BB/9 than Atlanta relievers this year. While the Braves bullpen has certainly improved as of late, that is still quite an accomplishment.
WPA Prediction- Ronald Acuna Jr.- Coming off his NL Play of the Week Award, Acuna Jr. gets favorable opening audition to repeat this week. While the Braves overall have seen very little of Ray, Acuna Jr. is the only Brave to hit a home run off of him. Along with a 1.287 OPS to begin 2019, Acuna Jr. hopefully will continue to one of baseball’s biggest difference makers.
Time/Date: Tuesday, April 16th, 7:20 EST
Location: SunTrust Park
TV: Fox Sports South (Streaming: Fox Sports Go)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network