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Charlie Morton looks to bounce back as road trip concludes with rubber game

Something about tires! Vulcanization!

National League Championship Series Game 3: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Braves snapped a two-game skid thanks to the Herculean efforts of Max Fried last night, as he twirled one of the best starts of his career and stymied the Dodgers in a 3-1 victory. This afternoon, the Braves will wrap up their first road trip of the year, as well as a stretch of 14 straight games, with a rubber game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Charlie Morton will take the hill for Atlanta, looking to right his ship after a disaster of an outing against the Padres.

Morton missed most of the World Series after suffering a fractured fibula on a comebacker in Game 1, with his performance after the injury (two strikeouts and a lineout) ascending to its rightful place in recent Braves lore. Concerns that he would be rusty or otherwise impeded for the start of the 2022 campaign were allayed by a long and effective Spring Training outing, and then his season debut, where he threw 5 13 innings of 3.38 ERA / 1.74 FIP / 3.77 xFIP ball against the Reds in a Braves win. But, his next start of the season was a nightmare — the Padres tagged him for five runs in five frames, including a homer — 9.00 / 6.65 / 5.67. It was his worst start, by Game Score (v2) since he failed to get out of the first inning against the Phillies back in May 2021; in all of 2021, he only managed one start with a 9.00 ERA or higher, one start with a worse FIP than 6.65 (the Phillies game), and three starts with a worse xFIP than 5.67. So, there’s room for improvement.

Morton did some serious work against the Dodgers in 2021, with a combined 13/3 K/BB ratio and five runs (three earned) allowed in 11 innings (one homer). The Braves won one of the games, and lost the other late. His start against them in NLCS Game 3 was pretty crazy, as he walked six (and struck out five) in five innings, but somehow allowed just two first-inning runs and departed with a 5-2 lead before Cody Bellinger’s homer off Luke Jackson gave the Dodgers their first win of the series.

The Dodgers, who had their seven-game winning streak snapped last night, will counter with what seems likely to be a tandem effort between Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson. Braves fans are likely familiar with Gonsolin (who retired one batter in NLCS Game 3), who only has one regular season appearance, but five postseason appearances against Atlanta, including three games in last year’s NLCS. (In fact, Gonsolin has appeared in seven postseason games, and five have come against the Braves.) The Braves have generally hit him well in the postseason, hitting two homers off him across 19 batters faced in the 2021 NLCS, and another two, along with a 8/6 K/BB ratio, in the 2020 NLCS. On the season, Gonsolin has pitched seven total frames. He allowed a run in three innings to the Rockies at Coors Field (3/1 K/BB ratio), and then threw four scoreless against the Reds, albeit with a 2/3 K/BB ratio.

In both of those games, Gonsolin has been followed by Tyler Anderson, whom they signed to a one-year, $8 million deal in the offseason. The 32-year-old southpaw had an exciting debut season for the Rockies in 2016 (2.4 fWAR in 114 13 innings) but degraded substantially from there, as his xFIP increased every year from 2016 through 2020. He bounced back with the Pirates (and eventually, after a trade, the Mariners in 2021), posting a fine 2.1 fWAR in 167 innings. His two pitching lines this season have been freakishly near identical — in both games following Gonsolin, he has faced 15 batters, allowed two hits, one non-homer run, walked none, and struck out four.

Arsenal-wise, you can kind of see why the Dodgers have paired these two guys. Gonsolin has a generic 93 mph fastball from the right side, which he pairs with a slider/cutter and a slow splitter. (There’s also an infrequently-used hard curveball that lacks horizontal movement.) Anderson is a cutter/fastball/changeup guy from the left side; his changeup has shown a ton of improvement in drop through two starts so far, but the bread-and-butter cutter has been well-placed and completely neutralized bats (.196 xwOBA-against) through the 30 batters he’s faced so far in 2022.

The Braves have a chance to get back to .500, finish with a winning road trip, and claim their first series win of the season today, but it’s the Dodgers, so it may not be that easy. Hopefully Morton puts whatever bugged him in San Diego behind him and the bats are able to do some work against Gonsolin and/or Anderson early in this one. Stay tuned.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Wednesday, April 20, 3:10 pm EDT

Location: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

TV: Bally Sports South, MLB Network (out of market only), MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan

Streaming: MLB.tv

XM Radio: Online/Ch. 177

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