Fresh off one of the best Junes in franchise history, the Braves will look to push their awesome play into July, as they visit Cincinnati and the Reds. When the Braves played host to the Reds to open the season, it was kind of a sign of things to come for the first two months, as the Braves split the four-game series despite out-xwOBAing the Reds in every game. They then proceeded to tread water for the first two months of the year before going on a rampage in June. Hopefully the rampage continues, and they’re not en route to another disappointing series.
The Reds, themselves, don’t pose much of a challenge on paper. At 26-48, they’re in last place in the NL Central, and have the second-worst record in MLB (worst in the NL). They had a dreadful, 3-18 April where two of those three wins came against the Braves, but actually had a more-than-fine 14-13 May. Unfortunately for the Cincinnati faithful, they weren’t able to keep it going, as they’re 9-17 in June so far, with one game left that will probably conclude by the time you read this post.
The Reds being bad isn’t really a case of poor luck or anything like that. They’re bad offensively: 26th in wRC+. They’re meh defensively: 17th in defensive value. They have bad pitching (27th in fWAR), with the worst bullpen in MLB, and the only bullpen that’s below replacement level by fWAR. Their position player group has at least been average-y in June, but that hasn’t stopped them from running losing streaks of three, four, and seven games over the course of the month.
Brandon Drury has been an unexpected source of production for Cincy, as he has 2.1 fWAR in 267 PAs so far... but he is outhitting his xwOBA by quite a bit. Tyler Stephenson (on the IL with a thumb issue) and Tommy Pham have been their only averagely-productive regulars after Drury. The pitching has been a mixed bag: Tyler Mahle has been great, Luis Castillo has been solid, and a few of the guys they’ve tried in the rotation like Graham Ashcraft and Connor Overton have done well. On the flip side, Mike Minor and Vladimir Gutierrez have been horrid, and they have a whole bullpen of sub-replacement-level arms, which is mega-yikes.
Friday, July 1, 6:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Max Fried (15 GS, 94.1 IP, 24.5 K%, 4.3 BB%, 2.77 ERA, 2.58 FIP)
Max Fried will get the start for the Braves in the opener and will be looking to continue a strong first half of the season. Fried was lights out through five starts in June posting a 2.16 ERA and a 1.87 FIP in 33 1/3 innings. He is coming off a good outing where he limited the Dodgers to two runs and struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings, prompting manager Dave Roberts to call him the best left-hander in baseball. Fried will be looking for a little bit of revenge against Cincinnati. He faced the Reds on Opening Day and allowed five runs over 5 2/3 innings. That start featured the most runs that Fried has allowed this season.
Mike Minor (5 GS, 25.2 IP, 17.6 K%, 8.4 BB%, 7.71 ERA, 7.96 FIP)
Former Brave Mike Minor will start opposite of Fried in the opener in a battle of southpaws. A shoulder injury caused Minor to begin the season on the Injured List and he’s been nowhere near good through his first five outings. Minor has allowed 22 runs and has surrendered 10 home runs in 25 2/3 innings. He was hit hard in his last outing, allowing eight hits, including three homers, and six runs in five innings against the Giants.
The Braves selected Minor with the seventh pick of the 2009 draft. He pitched with Atlanta through 2014 until shoulder troubles caused him to miss the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Friday’s start will be his first career appearance against Atlanta.
Saturday, July 2, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (17 G, 6 GS, 53.2 IP, 36.2 K%, 10.1 BB%, 3.02 ERA, 2.20 FIP)
Spencer Strider will get the call for the Braves Saturday evening. Strider will be making his seventh start since joining the rotation. After a rough start against the Giants where he couldn’t escape the fourth inning, Strider made some adjustments and put together a good outing last time out where he struck out seven over six scoreless innings against the Dodgers. Strider made one appearance against the Reds back during the season-opening weekend, firing two scoreless innings in relief to go along with five strikeouts.
Tyler Mahle (16 GS, 87.1 IP, 26.1 K%, 8.6 BB%, 4.53 ERA, 3.38 FIP)
Tyler Mahle will make his 17th start of the season for the Reds on Saturday. Mahle is carrying a 4.53 ERA over his first 16 starts, but has a 3.38 FIP. He has allowed 16 hits and seven earned runs over his last two starts combined (12 2/3 innings) and has 11 strikeouts and just two walks. Mahle matched up against Fried on Opening Day and limited the Braves to an unearned run over five innings while striking out seven. Mahle is tied for 15th in MLB in with 2.1 fWAR (as much as Kyle Wright), so this won’t necessarily be a cakewalk for the Atlanta offense.
Sunday, July 3, 1:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Charlie Morton (15 GS, 80.0 IP, 26.1 K%, 8.6 BB%, 4.73 ERA, 4.14 FIP)
Charlie Morton will get the call for Atlanta in Sunday’s series finale. After a tough start to the season, Morton has turned things around. He wasn’t sharp in his last start against Philadelphia, but did a good job of limiting the damage allowing seven hits and four walks, but just two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Morton struggled to put away hitters over the first two months of the season totaling 46 strikeouts in his first 10 starts combined. He struck out 45 hitters through five starts in June.
Weirdly enough, before he really started to struggle early in the year, Morton’s first start of the year, against the Reds, was just dandy: 5/1 K/BB ratio and two runs allowed in 5 1⁄3 innings.
Luis Castillo (10 GS, 57.0 IP, 25.1 K%, 8.8 BB%, 3.32 ERA, 3.20 FIP)
Right-hander Luis Castillo will match up with Morton in the finale Sunday. Castillo began the season on the Injured List due to a shoulder issue. He returned in May and will be making his 11th start of the season in Sunday’s game. Castillo is among the group of pitchers that could be on the move at the Trade Deadline. He has put up good numbers with a 3.32 ERA and a 3.20 FIP in 57 innings. He has allowed a total of four home runs in his 10 starts, which is impressive given his home park. He is coming off a good start where he struck out 11 over six scoreless innings against the Cubs. This is another game where despite the quality of the Reds overall, the Braves can’t just sit back and assume a win is a given — though of course, in baseball, that holds true pretty much every day.