The Braves’ 2022, so far, has been something that could perhaps be described, without hyperbole, as a “surrealist nightmare.” There is a litany of data I could dump here to try and support this point, but what’s the use? It doesn’t change their record, it doesn’t change that the well-constructed roster suddenly seems somewhat rocky in a run environment that has (temporarily? permanently?) rapidly shifted, and it doesn’t change the fact that there are perhaps two snippets of very good news for the team right now as they go for their first series win of 2022.
First, Ronald Acuña Jr. is back. His rehab was cut short/finally terminated last night, and he’ll presumably be in the lineup, in his customary leadoff spot, this evening. Welcome back, kid. Go win your team some ballgames. Second, it’s Kyle Wright day. Wright comes into the game fifth in fWAR (0.8), second in FIP-, fifth in xFIP-, 11th in ERA-, third in SIERA, ninth in xERA, you get the idea. Some people are ready to anoint him a rotation savior after years of unfulfilled promise, others (including me) are more cautious, but if you’re watching to see what happens next in this crazy activity we call Major League Baseball, this is quite a game to do it.
Acuña will get his first hacks of 2022 in against former teammate Drew Smyly, who’s pitched considerably better in his first three starts with the Cubs than he did in the whole of 2021 with the Braves. Smyly finished last season with 0.4 fWAR in 126 2⁄3 innings, although he was fine-ish peripherals-wise (103 xFIP-) but blown up by the longball (122 FIP-). He lost his rotation spot and was used as a bulk option here and there down the stretch and in the playoffs. So far, the Cubs have gotten Smyly to do something the Braves could not, at least not to the same extent: throw his curveball even more, and use his fastball less. He’s been aided by actually having an effective-ish cutter to throw this year, as the cutter was absent for much of early going in Atlanta and made him a problematic two-pitch pitcher when it hid. In any case, as it often feels for any team going badly, the Braves’ issue these days isn’t really their opponent but just the Braves themselves, and perhaps the game around them. If they can overcome those woes, somehow, they might find themselves series winners. If not, well, the Hieronymus Bosch-ian nightmare that is the 2022 season so far will continue, at least for another day.
So, watch for Acuña, watch for Wright, watch to maybe see the Braves win a game, and try to ignore the fact that the league batting line right now is .231/.307/.368, when it was .244/.317/.411 with the NL still having pitchers bat last year.
Chicago Cubs @ Atlanta Braves
Thursday, April 28, 2022
7:20 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network (out of market)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 176