After an off day on Thursday, the Atlanta Braves return to Truist Park where they will begin a eight-game homestand with a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Braves went 3-4 on their most recent road trip, dropping two of three in Texas while splitting a four-game series against the Mets. Atlanta is 12-15 on the season, six games back and in third place in the NL East standings.
Milwaukee comes into the series with a 17-8 record and have won seven of eight entering play Thursday. The Brewers are third in the majors with a staff ERA of 3.05 and a 2.98 FIP. They are fifth in the league in runs scored despite a 102 wRC+, which is 17th in the league.
The Brewers’ offense is actually a series of contradictions right now. They have a similar xwOBA to the Braves as well as a similar wOBA, so they have about the same (really big) gap between the two as the Braves have. But while the Braves have sequenced their way to offensive problems more often than not, as they’re bottom 10 in offensive WPA, the Brewers are fourth in MLB in that non-predictive mark. The Brewers currently have the biggest spread between low-leverage and high-leverage offensive results in MLB in terms of hitting better in high leverage than medium leverage or low leverage (185 to 107 to 86); the Braves are among the worst in the league in stacking their offensive outcomes in this way so far (67 to 90 to 109).
The pitching will be tough, as the Braves are third in MLB in each of ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-, and have the most pitching fWAR in baseball. All of their starters are on something like a four-win pace or better (it won’t last), and they already have four relievers that have put together the value of an average relief season... in under 10 innings each. They’re also an above-average unit defensively, and you can see how the combination of being stingy with runs allowance and high-leverage hitting has given them the great record they have at this point.
Friday, May 6, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Eric Lauer (4 GS, 23.1 IP, 36.6 K%, 5.4 BB%, 1.93 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 2.22 xFIP)
Left-hander Eric Lauer will get the start for the Brewers in Friday’s opener. He will be making his fifth start and looking to continue a strong start to the season. Lauer allowed five hits and one run over a season-best seven innings in his last start against the Cubs. He has allowed just two runs combined over his last three starts (19 innings). Lauer made one relief appearance against the Braves during the regular season last year and was roughed up for four hits and three runs in three innings. He started Game 4 of the NLDS and didn’t fare much better, allowing four hits and two runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Compared to last year, Lauer has gained over a tick of velocity, and has improved the shape of his curveball, though it’s been hit hard in the early going anyway. Lauer features a rare cutter-and-slider pairing where the two pitches don’t really blend into each other, with the slider actually working more like a traditional cutter, and the cutter having a bizarre movement pattern that you almost never see these days. His improved fastball has basically let him blow everyone away with his four-pitch mix; the only reason he’s not towards the top of some pitching leaderboards right now is that he hasn’t made five starts yet.
The Braves haven’t announced their starter for Friday’s series opener. Their options appear to include Spencer Strider, who last pitched on April 30 in Texas, as either the starter or the bulk guy in a bullpen game situation. Strider threw 33 pitches over 3 2/3 innings of relief against the Rangers and went 19 pitches in an appearance on April 23 against the Marlins. He has a 2.84 ERA and a 2.70 FIP in 12 2/3 innings and is averaging over 11 strikeouts per nine. The FIP is somewhat suppressed since he hasn’t been taken deep yet, as he has a 4.14 xFIP owing to an unseemly 18 percent walk rate.
Another potential option for the start is Huascar Ynoa, who is scheduled to take his turn in the Gwinnett rotation Friday. Ynoa began the season in Atlanta but was demoted after allowing 11 hits and 10 runs in just 6 2/3 innings in a pair of starts. Ynoa has made two starts since the demotion, allowing seven hits and four runs to go along with six walks and nine strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. If the Braves do go with Ynoa, then it will require a corresponding roster move. Ynoa infamously broke his hand when facing the Brewers in Milwaukee last season in a start where he had horrid outcomes, but a more-than-fine 3.01 xFIP.
Saturday, May 7, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Corbin Burnes (5 GS, 32.2 IP, 35.5 K%, 5.8 BB%, 1.93 ERA 2.88 FIP, 2.24 xFIP)
Reigning Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes will make his fifth start for the Brewers Saturday. Burnes has picked back up where he left off last season. He allowed just two hits and struck out 11 in 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants in his last start. Burnes has allowed just two earned runs combined over his last three outings (20 2/3 innings) and has 29 strikeouts. He’s in the top 30 in the majors by fWAR, and the Braves will hope that his non-curveball secondaries, none of which he throws too often, remain a bit off and exploitable, or else this could be another problematic game.
Max Fried (5 GS, 30.0 IP, 23.1 K%, 0.9 BB%, 3.00 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 2.59 xFIP)
After a couple of tough outings to begin the season, Max Fried has been lights out over his last two starts. Fried allowed four hits and one run over six innings in his last start against the Cubs. He has allowed a total of six hits and one run and has struck out 12 in his last 13 innings. Fried didn’t face Milwaukee during the regular season last year but was excellent in Game 2 of the NLDS, allowing three hits while striking out nine over six shutout innings.
Sunday, May 8, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Aaron Ashby (6 G, 2 GS, 19.1 IP, 25.9 K%, 15.3 BB%, 2.33 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.59 xFIP)
Left-hander Aaron Ashby will make his third start and seventh overall appearance in the series finale Sunday. Ashby began the season in Milwaukee’s bullpen as a multi-inning option. He recently moved into the rotation and allowed just one hit and one run despite issuing five walks in 5 2/3 innings against the Pirates. Ashby has never faced the Braves during the regular season but did make two appearances in the NLDS against them, allowing five hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Atlanta hasn’t announced its starter for Sunday’s finale yet, but it will either be Kyle Wright or Charlie Morton. Wright and Morton started Tuesday’s doubleheader in New York and would be on regular rest. Whoever doesn’t make this start will get two additional days of rest thanks to Monday’s off day. Morton has struggled so far this season but seemed to settle in the last couple of innings of Tuesday’s start against the Mets. He has a 6.85 ERA and a 5.37 FIP in 23 2/3 innings this season. Wright allowed a pair of first inning runs in New York but battled for seven innings allowing three runs and nine hits. Wright has a 1.74 ERA and a 2.09 FIP to go along with a 30.6 percent strikeout rate in 31 innings so far this season.