In 2021, the Braves beat the Astros in the championship series. In 2022, they have arguably an even-better team, in large part due to the fabulous right arm of Spencer Strider. The rookie now has 3.2 fWAR and a video-game-esque 73 ERA-/51 FIP-/63 xFIP- line. He’s put up the same dominant numbers he was throwing together in relief as a starter that generally works into the third time through the order, and has shown an ability to get by even when he’s not striking everyone out. Case in point: his most recent start against the Mets, where he stifled them with “just” a 4/1 K/BB ratio.
The Astros will be an interesting test for Strider, because they have a low strikeout rate and generally prioritize contact. Is that going to cause problems for his approach? Stay tuned and find out.
Opposing Strider will be a name not unfamiliar to Braves fans — but one that didn’t start for Houston in the World Series last year: Cristian Javier. The 25-year-old righty made six relief appearances for the Astros in the postseason, with three of them coming in the World Series against the Braves. His claim to fame (if you’re a Braves fan) or ignominy (if you’re an Astros fan) was the seventh inning of Game 4: with the Astros holding a 2-1 lead, he struck out Adam Duvall, and then allowed back-to-back homers to Dansby Swanson (tying the game) and Jorge Soler (giving up the tie). The Braves won that game to take a 3-1 lead in the series, and Javier allowed two more runs in the Braves’ Game 6 7-0 romp to clinch the title.
This season, though, Javier’s found another gear. He was a generic swingman last year, but on the back of a ton of strikeouts and some favorable HR/FB variation, has 2.1 fWAR in just 106 1⁄3 innings (78/85/94). Javier’s arsenal is kind of hard to describe. He mostly throws a four-seamer that lacks velocity or command, but seems to have the right amount of rise and approach angle to get a bunch of whiffs and pop-ups. He pairs that with a bizarre slider — one whose job it is to be thrown in the zone — which gets even more whiffs, and forces even more pop-ups, than the fastball. It’ll be interesting to see what the Braves do against Javier in a scenario where they’ll get to face him, most likely, two or three times in a night. It could go very poorly, with a bunch of whiffs combining with weakly-hit flies to bamboozle the Atlanta bats... or it could go very profitably, given that the Braves are far-and-away the best team at hitting pitches in the zone, including being first on four-seamers and second on sliders, so long as they’re rulebook strikes.
Houston Astros @ Atlanta Braves
Saturday, August 20, 2022
7:15 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Ch. 178