On Friday night, the Braves broke a trend of dropping four straight series openers, beating the Marlins 3-0 behind a stellar Kyle Wright. On Saturday night, despite seven runs, three homers, and a .402 xwOBA that they didn’t underperform in the game, they dropped a game to the Marlins (who finished with the same .402 wOBA but a .371 xwOBA) thanks to some poor and poorly-timed relief pitching. On Sunday, the Braves will have a chance to do two things they haven’t done yet this season: win the last game of a series, and win a series overall. If they don’t, it’ll be the first time they lose a series to the Fish since June of last year, and the first time in over a year that they’ll drop a home set to these divisional foes.
The Braves come into the game with a 7-9 record. The season has not gone to plan so far, in somewhat predictable fashion for anyone who watched the start of the 2021 campaign. (The Braves were also 7-9 through 16 games last year.) They’re 11th in wRC+ due to the eighth-biggest xwOBA underperformance among teams, as they have the third-highest xwOBA in MLB thus far. The defense has been good range-wise (top ten in OAA and runs prevented via OAA) but hasn’t added much value elsewhere, giving them a middle value overall. The pitching, as seen last night, has been snakebit by sequencing to a horrible degree, with 98s for FIP- and xFIP-, but a 115 ERA-; only the Angels have been hurt by sequencing while pitching more than the Braves. As already noted, the Braves are underperforming their offensive inputs more than other teams, even after accounting for the fact that the xStats need to be recalibrated for 2022. But they’re also being killed by sequencing on offense, where in a context-neutral sense they’ve been worth five runs above average offensively in terms of outcomes, but just average when you account for the base-out state in which those outcomes occur (RE24), and are even worse WPA-wise, which accounts for score and inning in addition to base-out state. Only the Reds have a bigger disparity so far this season between how well they’ve hit in lower-leverage as compared to higher-leverage. In brief, this season has not been very fun.
But, maybe the Braves can start turning that around as April heads into its final week, and a good outing from Bryce Elder would be a big help in that regard. Elder’s first two outings have been a mixed bag rather than a soothing salve. His debut was a nice 5 2⁄3 innings of three-run ball in a blowout that came with a great 2.82 xFIP, but he was popped for two garbage time homers before departing, which inflated his FIP. After that, he couldn’t really find the zone against the Padres, finishing with a 3/5 K/BB ratio that somehow resulted in just two runs allowed in 4 1⁄3 innings. Despite not throwing hard, Elder wasn’t really a control artist in the minors, so perhaps the issues with throwing strikes weren’t supposed to be surprising. Still, walking guys is not something he can afford to do with regularity given that his major league strikeout rate through two starts is below 16 percent.
Someone who hasn’t had trouble with strikeouts so far? Miami’s scheduled starter, Jesus Luzardo, whose 2022 debut featured 12 strikeouts across 18 batters faced. That outing has given him a terrifying line so far (130 ERA-, 27 FIP-, 59 xFIP-), but the reality is that after carving up the Angels to that extent, he managed just a 3/2 K/BB ratio against the Cardinals seven days later. He was also ineffective in 2021, so while he clearly has the ability and talent to dominate a game, and projections that suggest an average-or-better swingman type, it’s possible that things fall apart for him and/or the Braves figure out how to hit him. The Braves actually obliterated Luzardo during their ascendant nine-game winning streak last year — he held them scoreless for three innings, but allowed six straight to reach in the fourth, including three consecutive walks, two of which drove in runs, before being removed from the game. (The Braves won that game despite allowing six runs in the ninth.)
Miami Marlins @ Atlanta Braves
Sunday, April 24, 2022
1:35 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Ch. 177