The Atlanta Braves will return home Friday, where they will begin a five-game homestand with a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Atlanta dropped two of three in Philadelphia and are 3-3 since the All-Star Break. They are 59-41 on the season and will begin play Friday three games back of the New York Mets in the NL East standings. Last Saturday, the Braves pulled within a half-game of the division lead, but have dropped three of their next four to shed 2.5 games in the standings. The three-game deficit is their largest since July 7. Still, they have near-lock playoff odds, and 12 more games with the Mets to make up ground directly.
Austin Riley saw his 18-game hitting streak come to an end in Wednesday’s loss, but he is still hitting .413/.455/.859 for the month with 11 doubles and 10 home runs. Matt Olson accounted for all of the Braves’ offense Wednesday with his 20th home run of the season. He is hitting .250/.310/.554 with eight home runs in July, and has a 176 wRC+ since the All-Star Break.
Things haven’t been going as well for Ronald Acuña Jr., who sat out the finale in Philadelphia in hopes that two straight days off might provide him with a reset. Acuña is hitting just .214/.327/.286 with one home run and 21 strikeouts in his last 21 games. The Braves need him to find himself for the stretch run, though what they really need is just for him to get some joy on balls in play — the ailing superstar’s wOBA in July is a weak .286 but his xwOBA is a more-than-fine, if disappointing-for-what-we-know-he-can-do .349.
The Diamondbacks come into Friday’s opener with a 45-53 record, which is good for fourth in the NL West standings. They have won three straight and six of 10 overall; their winning streak came as a result of a sweep of the Giants, in which they plunged last year’s MLB wins leader below .500 for the first time since Opening Day of last year. The Snakes are currently ranked 19th in runs scored in the majors and their pitching staff is 23rd in fWAR. This is a team that really only defends well (fourth in MLB in defensive value), as most other things have been a bit of a struggle.
Ketel Marte has put together a solid season hitting .270/.358/.470 with a 129 wRC+. Josh Rojas leads the team in fWAR with 2.2 (0.1 ahead of Marte), but is outhitting a weak xwOBA to do so. Daulton Varsho is no longer hitting super-well and now has a pedestrian batting line, but has provided a ton of defensive value with his odd C/OF profile. First baseman Christian Walker (.204/.312/.450, 23 HR, 110 wRC+) and outfielder David Peralta (.215/.317/.465 (12 HR, 112 wRC+) are two players that could be moved at the deadline. Aside from Walker, who has a .369 xwOBA, no one on the team really makes great contact — the vast majority of the roster has a sub-.300 xwOBA.
Pitching-wise, the rotation’s been okay but the bullpen’s been pretty bad. Joe Mantiply is their relief leader and old friend Mark Melancon has a fine FIP but a bad xFIP; Kyle Nelson has a sparkling ERA but a meh xFIP. The rest of the relief corps is unremarkable to horrid. Merrill Kelly is having a breakout at age 33 in his fourth year back stateside, and Zac Gallen’s been good, but the rest of the rotation has been mediocre or worse.
Friday, July 29, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Madison Bumgarner (20 GS, 104.1 IP, 17.3 K%, 7.3 BB%, 3.71 ERA, 4.49 FIP)
Veteran left-hander Madison Bumgarner will get the start for the Diamondbacks in Friday’s series opener. The Braves have historically struggled against Bumgarner who has a 2.69 ERA, 2.68 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP in 16 career starts against Atlanta. Though at this point, Bumgarner mostly just eats innings, he turned in one of his best starts of the season in his last time out, allowing four hits and two runs over a season-high eight innings against the Nationals. He faced Atlanta back on June 1 and took the loss allowing seven hits and two runs over six innings. That game was the first win of a 14-game winning streak for the Braves.
Kyle Wright (19 GS, 116.0 IP, 24.3 K%, 7.2 BB%, 2.95 ERA, 3.32 FIP)
Kyle Wright will get the start for the Braves in Friday’s opener in what will be a rematch against Bumgarner from June 1. Wright allowed three hits and pitched around five walks in six innings against the Diamondbacks in that matchup. Those five walks are a season-high and as many as he issued in four starts combined in July. Wright continued his strong season last time out striking out eight while allowing two runs in six innings against the Angels. It was a nice bounceback from a poor stretch of five starts prior, and he’ll get a chance to add more of the good stuff to his tally in facing another weak offense.
Saturday, July 30, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Corbin Martin (6 G, 1 GS, 18.1 IP, 18.3 K%, 13.4 BB%, 3.93 ERA, 3.28 FIP)
Right-hander Corbin Martin will make his second straight start for Arizona in Saturday’s game. Martin made five relief appearances earlier in the season, but was recalled to take Dallas Keuchel’s spot in the rotation after the latter was designated for assignment. Morton allowed four hits and a run in four innings against the Nationals, but saw his pitch count run up due to five walks. Saturday’s game will be his first career appearance against Atlanta.
Martin’s ERA and xFIP look good, but he has a really horrid xERA (5.29) and his xFIP isn’t gladdening either, at 4.99. He has struggled immensely as a starter through his career so far, though it’s been just nine starts — his minor league stats have also been fairly bad throughout multiple stints at Triple-A.
Ian Anderson (19 GS, 95.0 IP, 19.1 K%, 11.3 BB%, 5.31 ERA, 4.47 FIP)
With the Trade Deadline just a few days away, all eyes will be on Ian Anderson Saturday as he tries to bounce back from a poor outing in his last start. Anderson was tagged for five runs in the first inning and gave up seven overall in a loss to the Angels. It has been a tough season for Anderson, who has seemingly been searching for answers from the start. Anderson’s lone start against Arizona came last season, where he allowed one run and struck out eight over seven innings.
Sunday, July 31, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Merrill Kelly (20 GS, 118.1 IP, 20.1 K%, 7.5 BB%, 3.04 ERA, 3.20 FIP)
Sunday’s series finale will feature a fine pitching matchup with Merrill Kelly getting the call for Arizona. Kelly has put together an impressive season and has been lights out in July with a 1.57 ERA and a 2.95 FIP in 34 1/3 innings. He allowed three hits and struck out seven over eight scoreless innings in his last start against the Giants. Kelly is probably drawing substantial trade interest as a result of his breakout and the fact that he’s controlled for a fairly low cost for two more years after 2022, plus a team option.
Max Fried (20 GS, 125.1 IP, 23.3 K%, 4.4 BB%, 2.73 ERA, 2.47 FIP)
Max Fried will get the call for the Braves in the series finale. Fried has allowed three runs in each of his past two starts, although there was some bad luck involved in his latest against Philadelphia. He allowed nine hits and struck out eight over six innings against the Phillies, but Atlanta watched a late lead slip away. Fried has faced the Diamondbacks twice in his career, allowing 16 hits and five runs in 11 innings.