After a good homestand, the Atlanta Braves will head back out on the road for a six-game road trip that will begin Monday night with a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Braves went 5-2 on their most recent homestand, securing series wins over two of the best teams in baseball in the New York Mets and the Houston Astros. Atlanta saw its three-game winning streak come to an end and missed out on a chance to pick up a game in the NL East standings when they suffered a 5-4 loss Sunday. Still, it has been a solid stretch where they have won 11 of 13 overall to clamber back into the NL East race.
The Braves swept the Pirates in a three-game series at Truist Park back in June as part of their 14-game winning streak. Pittsburgh is 47-74 on the season and have lost two straight and eight of 10 overall.
The Pirates are a different looking team than the one Atlanta saw back in June. Top prospect Oneil Cruz was promoted to the majors in late June, but has struggled at the plate, hitting just .196/.247/.386 with a 74 wRC+ — and no, he’s not really underperforming his xwOBA. Strikeouts have been his biggest issue, as he will enter Monday’s game with a strikeout rate of just under 38 percent. One player that hasn’t been struggling is outfielder Bryan Reynolds who has heated up in August. Pittsburgh opted to hang on to Reynolds again at the Trade Deadline and he has put up a .313/.418/.582 line with five home runs and a 178 wRC+ over his last 18 games. The Braves won’t have to worry about third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who is on the Injured List.
Overall, the Pirates are a bottom-three position player unit, with the league’s third-worst hitting and below-average defense as well. Hayes, Reynolds, and outfielders Jack Suwinski and Ben Gamel are the only Pirates position players with 1.0 or more fWAR; Suwinski has nonetheless been sent back to the minors, Hayes is hurt, and Reynolds, despite his great play recently, is outhitting his xwOBA a ton on the year. The pitching staff is comparatively a little better (24th in MLB), and the bullpen in particular is average, but there’s not a ton to recommend here. Jose Quintana still leads the team’s pitchers in fWAR despite being traded weeks ago; J.T. Brubaker, Mitch Keller, and closer David Bednar are the only other pitchers with 1.0 fWAR or more.
Randomly, though, the Pirates have a lead or have won just two season series so far: they’re 8-7 against the Cubs, and somehow 5-1 against the Dodgers.
Monday, August 22, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Jake Odorizzi (15 GS, 73.2 IP, 17.3 K%, 7.3 BB%, 4.15 ERA, 4.30 FIP)
When the Braves acquired Jake Odorizzi from the Astros at the Trade Deadline, they were hoping that he would be able to provide some quality innings at the back end of the rotation. His Atlanta tenure has gotten off to a slow start, though, as he has allowed 22 hits and nine earned runs in 13 2/3 innings across three starts, along with absolutely horrid peripherals. Odorizzi has two career starts against Pittsburgh where he allowed five runs and struck out 11 in 10 innings. Both of those starts came back in 2018 when he was a member of the Twins.
Roansy Contreras (13 G, 10 GS, 56.0 IP, 21.7 K%, 10.7 BB%, 4.02 ERA, 4.82 FIP)
Young right-hander Roansy Contreras will get the start in Monday’s opener for the Pirates. Contreras faced the Braves back on June 10 and allowed eight hits, three earned runs and struck out seven in 4 2/3 innings. He was optioned in early July and spent more than a month at Triple-A. He returned to the major league roster last week and allowed six hits and four runs over six innings against the Red Sox.
Contreras has been an interesting case through his 13 appearances so far — more prone to hard contact and barrels than is typical, even for someone with his weak peripherals — but somehow not victimized by it in the box scores... yet.
Tuesday, August 23, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Max Fried (23 GS, 145.1 IP, 22.9 K%, 4.3 BB%, 2.60 ERA, 2.50 FIP)
Max Fried will get the call in Game Two for Atlanta. Fried returned to the rotation after missing a start while on the 7-day concussion list and showed no ill effects ,as he allowed four hits, two runs and struck out six with zero walks while outdueling Jacob deGrom for seven innings. The homer to Mark Canha he allowed was the first time he was taken deep since June 9. Fried faced the Pirates back in June and allowed eight hits, but just one run, and struck out eight over six innings of work.
JT Brubaker (23 GS, 120.1 IP, 23.2 K%, 8.6 BB%, 4.19 ERA, 3.68 FIP)
JT Brubaker will be looking to build off of one of his best starts of the season when he takes the mound against the Braves Tuesday night. Brubaker allowed just two hits and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings against the Red Sox. He has allowed three runs or fewerin six of his past seven starts. He faced the Braves back on June 9 and allowed three runs and struck out seven in seven innings. Brubaker has turned out to be a quality arm after a disappointing first 170 or so innings in the majors, and while the Braves will have Fried on the hill, this isn’t necessarily a game to be taken lightly.
Wednesday, August 24, 12:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Kyle Wright (23 GS, 140.2 IP, 23.7 K%, 7.0 BB%, 3.14 ERA, 3.67 FIP)
Kyle Wright will get the start in the series finale Wednesday afternoon. Wright experienced some arm fatigue after his start on August 10 in Boston and like Fried, was pushed back. He looked good in his return, striking out seven over six innings while allowing just two runs against the Astros. His velocity was back to normal, though he continues to struggle with a loss of horizontal motion on his curveball, and seemed to adjust his pitching approach to address that in his most recent start, working curves to the arm side rather than trying to sweep them across the plate. Wright faced the Pirates back on June 12 and allowed five hits, three runs and struck out seven over six innings.
Mitch Keller (23 G, 21 GS, 114.1 IP, 18.5 K%, 8.4 BB%, 4.49 ERA, 3.94 FIP)
Mitch Keller will start opposite Wright in the finale. Keller will be looking to bounce back after a rough start in Boston where he lasted just two innings while allowing five hits, three walks and four runs. Prior to that start, he had gone six straight starts where he had allowed three runs or less while logging at least 5 1/3 innings. Keller’s peripherals are actually decent, but he has been prone to huge meltdowns which disproportionately hurt his ERA.