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Fried faces Rockies again as Braves return home

Can he mesmerize the Colorado attack again? Can the Braves take advantage of Antonio Senzatela?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After a six-game Ohio road trip bookended by lots of rain, the Braves remain at .500 and will be looking to clear that mark for good as they kick off another series with the Rockies. The Braves have been within one game of .500 for 14 of their 24 game days so far, but trounced the Rockies fairly handily during their snow-shortened two game set in Denver earlier this month and escaped the gravitational pull of mediocrity therein, if only for a little while. Maybe the same thing will start to happen again tonight.

The Rockies have not had a particularly great April as they seek to defy the odds and grab another playoff berth. At 11-14 coming into tonight’s game, they have a bottom-ten league record, as well as a bottom-10 run differential. When the Braves dealt them two losses during the season’s third week, they were contributing to a losing streak that would hit eight games before Colorado finally snapped it. Since then, the Rockies have gone 8-2, including a homestand where they helped the Braves out mightily by taking three of four from the Phillies and then two of three from the Nationals.

Still, though, the Rockies have some issues. They’ve been a bottom-three offense so far when adjusting for the park effects of Coors Field, and still a bottom-ten offense when letting the Coors effect do its thing. While the defense has been good, that kind of offensive ineptitude is difficult to overcome, and the Rockies find themselves currently tied with the Reds for dead last in MLB in position player fWAR, with -0.5. They currently have fewer above-replacement position players (seven) than below-replacement ones (nine), and Trevor Story’s great start (112 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR) has been essentially offset by the existence of Ian Desmond (10 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR, though it should be noted he’s been surprisingly non-horrible in center field so far). The pitching, however, has been pretty good, which is why the Rockies are only three games under .500 and not huddled in a mountain cave deciding whether to eat Garrett Hampson or Pat Valaika first. The bullpen has at least been okay, a far cry from the costly disaster it was last year. It’s still costly, but is currently more on the “inefficient use of resources” than on the “divide by zero/my mother is a fish” side of the spectrum. The rotation, however, has been pretty good. The Braves will see a mix of Colorado’s starters based on their effectiveness so far — Jon Gray (tomorrow) and Antonio Senzatela (tonight) have been pretty good, while Tyler Anderson (Sunday) has been the lone rotation member for the Rockies to struggle so far.

Antonio Senzatela isn’t a name you hear all too often in the context of the remade-and-pretty-good Rockies rotation, but he’s not a pushover, either. Sporting a career 97 FIP- and 102 xFIP-, he’s basically served as a generic mid-rotation starter for the Rox for over 200 innings spanning two-plus seasons at this point, and he hasn’t shown any diminished effectiveness yet this year, either. Senzatela finished 2018 with 1.2 fWAR in 90 innings, spanning 13 starts and ten relief appearances. So far this year, he’s only made two starts due to a heel blister that kept him out of action for the first few weeks of the season, but they’ve been as expected — pretty okay. He held the Padres to a solo homer in 6 23 in his season debut with a 4/1 K/BB ratio, and followed that up by allowing four runs in six innings (3/1 K/BB ratio) against the Phillies. If there’s one thing of note about Senzatela this year it’s that he’s both striking out and walking barely anyone at all and allowing very hard contact, while getting an extreme groundball rate that’s saved him from getting blasted. That’s definitely a change of pace him, as he was more of fairly generic lower-end-of-the-strikeout-totem-pole hurler up to this point, but it’s only been two starts so it’s too soon to say that he’s profoundly changed.

Senzatela is mostly a fastball guy, and is kind of weird in that he throws a four-seam fastball that sinks a lot, which generates grounders. He’s thrown even more of it this year so far, hence, more grounders. He’ll also throw a curveball and a slider (he’s thrown like one changeup this year so not sure how prevalent that’ll be), and the usage of those tends to vary.

Senzatela has only made one start against the Braves prior to this one, and it was that horrific game where the Rockies scored three runs off A.J. Minter after being down to their last strike (and then won in extra innings) so the less said about that the better. The Braves chased him after five frames in that one, as he yielded two runs, two walks, and got just one strikeout in the process.

For the Braves, though, this game will once again be about the emergence of Max Fried. The lefty has been a top-30 starter in baseball so far, with a disjointed 32 ERA- / 74 FIP- / 96 xFIP- pitching line that’s still been good for 0.6 fWAR on the year. The strikeouts appear to have vanished from Fried’s repertoire, but he’s managed contact incredibly well so far — he’s the only hurler in baseball with 70 or more batted balls allowed that hasn’t yielded a single barreled ball so far. Among that group of 80 or so pitchers, he’s top ten in rate of hard-hit balls allowed, barely outside of the top 10 in average exit velocity, and third in minimizing launch angle. With increased zone, first-pitch strike, and contact rates, it appears that Fried’s strategy so far has been to get ahead and have hitters get themselves out when behind in the count. It’s worked so far, but hitters may also be catching on — each of Fried’s four starts has essentially been progressively worse than the last one, and he allowed his first homer of the year his last time out in Cleveland.

His second start of the year came against these same Rockies, and he dominated them at Coors Field. Fried pitched six frames of one-run ball with a 4/1 K/BB ratio as the Braves roughed up German Marquez and cruised to an easy 7-1 victory. The Rockies have the league’s worst wRC+ and a bottom-five wOBA (Coors Field effect and all) against left-handed pitching so far this year, so this is a great opportunity for Fried to keep his stellar start to 2019 rolling merrily along.

Game Info

Colorado Rockies at Atlanta Braves

Friday, April 26, 2019

7:20 p.m. EDT

SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: SXM 187 (Streaming 841)

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