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Sizzling Braves welcome Dodgers, Freeman to town for weekend set

The Braves will try to exact some revenge after dropping a series to the Dodgers in April

MLB: APR 20 Braves at Dodgers Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The weather in Atlanta’s hot, and the Braves are sizzling, having won 18 of their last 21 games, including taking three of four from the Giants to push their record to 41-30 on the year. Their homestand continues through the weekend, with the Braves set to square off against one of the five teams in the majors with a better record: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Let’s be real, you know about the Dodgers. They ended the Braves’ season in the 2018 NLDS, and then did so again in the 2020 NLCS. In 2021, as part of their title run, the Braves exacted some revenge, ending the Dodgers’ season instead. In any case, this is a juggernaut of a roster that has compiled MLB’s third-best record and is projected to produce the most WAR for the remainder of the season.

The Dodgers’ position player crew leads the NL with 13.7 fWAR (second in MLB). They have the second-best wRC+ and third-best baserunning value; the defense has been mediocre but not problematic. They’re fifth in xwOBA, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate, and have the league’s best walk rate. They have six position players with more than 1.0 fWAR already, three of which have well more than 2.0.

The pitching is similarly formidable, with 9.8 fWAR that ranks third in MLB (the Braves are second!!). Both the rotation and bullpen are top six in MLB, and the staff has been bolstered by unlikely heroes like Tyler Anderson, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal in the offseason and has been a top-30 pitcher so far.

The Braves will catch a substantial break in this series, as the Dodgers’ team fWAR leader, Mookie Betts, is currently shelved with a rib injury. Betts’ 3.3 fWAR puts him somewhere around the top 10 in MLB (Dansby Swanson’s big day on Thursday may have shunted him down to 11th, though), so not having to face him is a pretty big boon. With that said, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner are both around the top 15 of MLB in fWAR with marks above 2.5, so it’s not like the Dodgers are hapless without Betts around.

This will, of course, be Freeman’s first series at Truist Park as a visitor. He’s given the Dodgers pretty much what they’ve expected so far, with a .407 xwOBA that’s right in line with his history of elite offensive performance. He’s also inexplicably “added” a weapon in terms of running — Freeman’s 3.0 BsR places him 11th in MLB among “qualified” batters. To put that in perspective, Freeman’s 39th-percentile sprint speed has, to date, resulted in nearly the same baserunning value in 2022 as Dansby Swanson’s 84th-percentile mark.

DraftKings Odds: Dodgers +120, Braves -140

Friday, June 24, 7:20 pm ET

Julio Urias (13 GS, 70 13 IP, 63 ERA-, 108 FIP-, 102 xFIP-)

The Dodgers’ 25-year-old left-hander is having a down year by his standards, though it hasn’t quite hurt him in the box score due to the low ERA. Urias has pitched to contact a lot more this year, which is why his peripherals are somewhat worse, but has also made some gains in commanding his changeup.

The Braves didn’t face the Urias earlier this year in Los Angeles, but he fared well against them in two regular-season starts last year. Where he scuffled was in the NLCS, as he blew a late lead in Game 2 and was crushed in Game 4 — the Braves got some revenge off of him after he stifled them across eight innings in the NLCS the prior year, including three shutout innings to end their season in Game 7.

That aside, Urias has been better in June than in either April or May — across three starts he’s struck out 30 percent of the batters he’s faced, and has allowed only four runs, three of which came on solo homers.

Ian Anderson (13 GS, 70 13 IP, 102 ERA-, 109 FIP-, 106 xFIP-)

Anderson has weirdly thrown the exact same number of innings in the same number of starts as Urias, and has similar peripherals with way worse run allowance. After a strong start to his career, Anderson has often been shaky since returning from a shoulder injury in the second half of last season. Prior to the injury, Anderson had a 68/75/83 line in 23 regular-season starts; since, he’s at 97/117/107, and the fact that those numbers are so close to his 2022 line suggests some continuity in his struggles. (He had a 4.95 xFIP during the Braves’ postseason run, too, so you shouldn’t try to throw that out as a counter.)

Anderson’s strikeout rate has plummeted this year, in part due to a fastball that’s lost some velocity and “rise” this year. He’s had trouble throwing his curve for strikes, which has made him somewhat more predictable, and possibly let hitters sit on (or guess) the fastball a bit better.

Like Urias, Anderson didn’t pitch in the series in L.A., and his only regular-season start against the Dodgers wasn’t particularly good. He has, however, made four starts against the Dodgers already in the postseason, with a combined 13/11 K/BB ratio and one homer allowed, with the Braves winning three of the four games (but not Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS).

Saturday, June 25, 7:15 pm ET (FOX)

Andrew Heaney (3 GS, 15 13 IP, 15 ERA-, 55 FIP-, 67 xFIP-)

Southpaw Andrew Heaney will make his fourth start as a Dodger in a battle of left-handers on Saturday. Signed to a one-year, $8.5 million deal in the offseason after a mediocre 2021, Heaney made two good starts before missing two months with a shoulder issue. He returned without showing ill effects last Sunday, where he held the Guardians to two runs (one earned) in five innings, with a 7/1 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed.

The Dodgers have apparently changed Heaney’s breaking pitch from a curve that lacked depth to a fairly generic slider. It’s paid dividends so far, though weirdly enough, in the way it’s helped his fastball moreso than something else.

Heaney has faced the Braves once in his career, last August, as a Yankee. He had a 5/1 K/BB ratio in the game but left after four innings, having allowed two runs.

Max Fried (14 GS, 87 23 IP, 65 ERA-, 69 FIP-, 74 xFIP-)

Look, I can go around writing paeans to how awesome Max Fried is all day, but you already know. He’s so good. He already has 2.4 fWAR, which ties him for the fourth-most in MLB among starters. The Dodgers know he’s good too, as he absolutely eviscerated them in April: seven scoreless innings, 8/0 K/BB ratio, just two hits and nothing else in the only game the Braves won out in L.A.

Fried has generally pitched well against his hometown Dodgers in the regular season (aside from a start he had to leave due to injury after allowing four runs in the first in 2019), and has gotten them in the last two NLCSes as much as they’ve gotten him. But again, it’s Max Fried. He’s amazing.

Sunday, June 26, 7:08 pm ET (ESPN)

Tony Gonsolin (13 GS, 68 13 IP, 39 ERA-, 86 FIP-, 92 xFIP-)

Sunday Night Baseball will feature plenty of intrigue this time around, as massive x/FIP outperformer Tony Gonsolin will start for L.A. Gonsolin had a shutdown May but his strikeout rate has cooled since. He’s always been about letting his fastball set up his splitter, slider, and curve, and his increased success this year can be attributed to, at least in part, throwing his great-rise-but-not-actually-that-fast four-seamer less than before.

Gonsolin did face Atlanta in L.A. and had a very 2022 Gonsolin start — a 3/3 K/BB ratio and yet six scoreless, one-hit innings. The Braves will hope those sorts of shenanigans don’t persist into this outing. Gonsolin has seven career postseason appearances, and five of those have come against the Braves — the only one that has gone even remotely well was when he faced one batter and retired said batter and then left the game in Game 3 of last year’s NLCS.

Spencer Strider (16 G, 5 GS, 47 23 IP, 80 ERA-, 61 FIP-, 69 xFIP-)

Fittingly, Gonsolin’s opponent will be a guy who has a notably worse ERA than his peripherals in Spencer Strider. Atlanta’s rookie right-hander got knocked around by the Giants on Tuesday, as some diminished velocity led to more contact and fewer strikeouts than what we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Strider. It’s not clear whether the diminished velocity was a result of trying to aim the ball into the zone due to the Giants’ patience, or some lingering effect from a high pitch count in the start prior (my money’s on the former but who knows), but it’ll be something to watch as Strider faces off against the Dodgers for the first time in his career.