These first four games of the season have been tough to witness. In Philadelphia, Atlanta’s pitching did well, but the offense struggled. Yesterday, the offense came alive a bit, but two bad pitches from Drew Smyly (who otherwise had a very encouraging debut for Atlanta) plus a bad bullpen day squandered the lead multiple times, and eventually the game itself. When one area of the team has performed well, the other has not been able to do the same to find a winning balance.
Though it has only been four games, and all stats should be kept in context, the one that certainly stands out for the offense is eight walks to 46 strikeouts over four games. Per game, that is a 11.5/2 strikeout to walk ratio. Atlanta has also scored just eight runs on 19 total hits.
Without a doubt, had line drives from Marcell Ozuna or Ronald Acuna Jr. been a foot to the left or right of where they were in Philadelphia, this could be a completely different, and more positive, conversation. There has certainly been a significant amount of bad luck. But with the Braves ‘offense being a clear example of an all or nothing approach based on the long ball, bad luck is going to have a bigger impact than usual. While the bad luck will likely reverse and the Braves will see some positive regression in that department soon, they also need to start putting together better at-bats to produce walks and timely hits. The hard contact as certainly been there on many occasions, but Atlanta needs more people on the the bases to capitalize on the times when these loud outs start becoming hits.
With all this being said, the understanding that it has only been four of 162 games still carries plenty of relevance. And with the talent on this Atlanta team, it simply feels as if getting that first win is all that will be needed for consistency to shine through. Fortunately, the Braves have multiple chances this afternoon to do just that. And their first attempt will be with their ace/stopper, Max Fried, on the mound.
Game 1 of today’s doubleheader will feature Fried against Washington’s Erick Fedde. Fried looked good in his first outing against Philadelphia on Opening Day. A bit of bad luck aside, Fried allowed two runs, six hits and two walks while producing eight strikeouts over five innings. Of his 94 pitches, 63 were strikes, including 13 first pitch strikes out of 24 batters faced.
Though each starter for Atlanta has gone five or more innings in the first four games of the season, after yesterday’s bullpen collapse, a satisfying six or seven inning performance from Fried could be a big boost for the entire team. Fried has had his up and downs against the Nationals over his career, including five starts in six appearances (a few injury instances have occurred.) Overall, in 23 innings pitched against the Nationals, Fried has allowed 23 hits, 13 earned runs, 11 walks, and 23 strikeouts. Limiting his bouts of wildness and the duo of Trea Turner and Juan Soto will have a huge impact on his performance.
Erick Fedde will be making his 2021 debut for the Nationals, and likely will be doing it much earlier in their schedule than anyone anticipated ten days ago. Due to a few of the Nationals’ starters, including Patrick Corbin, being unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols, Fedde will take the mound. He was 2-4 with a 4.29 ERA and 6.15 FIP over 50 1⁄3 innings last year. He only produced 28 strikeouts in 2020, and that is welcome news for the Braves. Without significant hit-and-miss potential in his approach, Fedde has struggled against good offenses in his career. Over 14 1⁄3 innings against Atlanta in his career, Fedde has allowed 20 earned runs, 26 hits, five home runs, 13 walks and only 12 strikeouts. Atlanta has good reason to like their chances in Game 1.
Atlanta must be up to the task to take advantage of the pitching matchup in the first game because life will be a bit tougher for them in the second game, which will feature Huascar Ynoa for Atlanta and Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals. In various roles last year, Ynoa showed flashes of intriguing potential mixed in with an overall inconsistent campaign in 2020. In 17 2⁄3 innings over six games, including three “starts”, Ynoa allowed 20 hits, 21 runs (15 earned), two home runs, seven walks, and 28 strikeouts. Ynoa has faced the Nationals in 8 2⁄3 of his career innings, allowing nine hits, seven earned runs, five walks and nine strikeouts. The key for Ynoa is keeping his control in check. If he can, he can find his way through the Nationals lineup two times with success.
That has to be the hope for the Braves, especially if Fried can go more than five innings in Game 1. If Ynoa can limit the damage twice through the order, the Braves will have to be pleased giving the game to a fresh bullpen. Regardless of who is on the mound, they are going to have to be at the top of their game with Stephen Strasburg going for Washington. Strasburg, who has dealt with his fair share of injuries over his career, only completed five innings in 2020 due to bouts of numbness in his hand and arm. He has not pitched since August 14th of last year, and though his arm appears healthy, he is also dealing with a calf injury that emerged late in Spring Training. However, it is not expected to cause a major issue.
Even with Strasburg only throwing five innings since the end of the 2019 season, he ended that campaign on a pretty good note, playing a big role in the Nationals winning the 2019 World Series. He finished fifth in the Cy Young race and 15th in the MVP voting. He led the National League in wins with 18, and produced 251 strikeouts to just 58 walks over 209 innings.
Furthermore, Strasburg is more than familiar with the Braves over his career. In 34 career games, he is 14-12 with a 4.07 ERA and 229 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings pitched. Many of his better performances have come in recent years against Atlanta, though Strasburg has been prone to less than ideal outings to open seasons over the past few years. However, the Nationals will clearly have a similar advantage in Game 2 as the Braves will have in Game 1 when it comes to the starters. That is why it is essential for the Braves offense to keep it rolling to support Max Fried.
The Braves simply need to get that first win today. Even if a 1-5 record may look bad once their off day comes Thursday, getting their first win will certainly be more impactful as a positive. If they were able to win both games, that will be a huge boost that will make this rough start quickly forgotten. However, if they fail to win either game, Thursday will be quite interesting. Overall, the Braves simply need to find their balance. If Fried can perform as he did on Opening Day and the offense can show better judgement at the plate, that will be a great development for both games. This team is more than capable, they just simply need to show it with confidence on the field.
A fun reminder that with customized rules still in place this season due to the pandemic, both games will be seven innings. The Braves had some good success in this double header setup in 2020; hopefully, that continues today.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, April 7, Game 1, 12:05 pm EST, Game 2 approx. 3:05 pm EST
Location: Nationals Park, Washington, DC
TV: Bally Sports South
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network