The Braves are rolling, and will try to extend what’s been a great summer so far by taking a series on the Reds’ home turf on Saturday afternoon. The Braves won big, 9-1, on Friday night, but had to beat up on the woeful Cincinnati bullpen to do so, as former mate Mike Minor held them to just two first-inning runs in six innings.
The Braves couldn’t solve Minor, popping up way too many of his pitches after Austin Riley’s homer. Solving today’s scheduled starter, Tyler Mahle, may not be easy, either. Mahle comes into the game with an uninspiring 103 ERA-, but his 81 FIP- and 98 xFIP- suggest something somewhat better (the FIP-xFIP gap is impressive considering his home park). He also has a great xERA. On the strength of that FIP, Mahle has 2.1 fWAR in 87 1⁄3 innings, a mark that ties hi with Kyle Wright for 17th in MLB at this point.
Mahle defeated the Braves on Opening Day, part of that miserable series where the Braves got two wins in four games despite out-xwOBAing the Reds in all four contests. Mahle allowed one (unearned) run in five innings, with a 7/2 K/BB ratio. He actually went all of April without allowing a homer. Lately, he’s been more of a mixed bag. Between May 29 and June 14, he had four quite-good starts, with a 30/57/74 line. In his last two, though, it’s been 113/94/110 in two outings — he’s (over?)used his cutter and slider in those games. Overall, Mahle will come at the Braves with a four-ish pitch mix — he mostly throws a four-seam fastball with good “rise,” but will mix in a splitter, and a cutter/slider which are separate but very similar. The Braves will probably want to figure out a way to punish the cutter/slider usage, because his fastball tends to cause problems with its two-plane movement. Among pitchers with 150 or more PAs ending in a four-seamer this season, Mahle’s .281 xwOBA-against is the second-lowest; if you relax the constraint to 50 or more, which includes a bunch of relievers, it’s still a top-20 mark.
The Braves will counter with Spencer Strider, who’s been pretty impressive in his own right. Since acceding to the rotation, Strider has racked up 0.8 fWAR, which ties him with Logan Webb for a top-30 mark in that span. (Max Fried is first in MLB in that span, ahead of Aaron Nola, Carlos Rodon, Sandy Alcantara). Strider really struggled against the Giants two starts ago, throwing with diminished velocity (whether deliberate or not, who’s to say). He rebounded against the Dodgers, getting back to his average 98 mph on his fastball, and putting together arguably his best start as a major leaguer so far, with a 7/0 K/BB ratio in six scoreless frames. The Reds aren’t a good hitting team in general, nor against right-handers, but they at least do okay against righty fastballs, so that might be something to watch in this game.
On Opening Day, Strider faced the Reds in relief and struck out five of the six batters he faced in a perfect, perfectly destructive two-inning outing.
The Braves actually haven’t won a series in Cincinnati since 2017 — so taking the game today (or tomorrow) would give them an accomplishment they haven’t secured since the rebuilding days. That’s kind of weird considering the Reds were pretty bad in both 2018 and 2019, but the time to rectify all that is now.
Atlanta Braves @ Cincinnati Reds
Saturday, July 2, 2022
4:10 pm ET
Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online, Ch. 181