Good day, everyone! I am pleased to remind you that when you read this, the Braves will be in sole, uncontested first place in the NL East, carrying an 0.5-game lead over the New York Mets? How did they get there? A homer-rific 6-4 win over the Seattle Mariners, while the Mets flopped against the Marlins. While the Braves have their first uncontested lead all season, the race is still on: there are 24 games to go, and while the Mets get to face Pablo Lopez and the Marlins tonight, the Braves will have another tough test of their own: George Kirby.
The Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2019 Rule IV amateur draft, Kirby has racked up a plentiful 2.4 fWAR in just 105 2⁄3 innings, with an 86/79/81 line overall. That line, though, is a composite of some June struggles and what he’s done since. Kirby gave up four homers in his last start of June. After that, he has allowed zero homers and just seven walks in 10 starts, while striking out 60. In those 10 tries, in terms of non-ERA, he hasn’t even had a bad start: his highest FIP in a start in that span was 2.11, and his highest xFIP was 3.90. In his most recent outing, Kirby was forced out by a long rain delay after a 2/0 K/BB ratio and a lone run scoring across three frames.
How does he the 24-year-old right-hander do it? Largely with a 95-96 mph fastball he throws about half the time. The pitch lacks any on-paper remarkable spin, movement, or location, but has a pretty good vertical approach angle (VAA) and therefore appears to be relatively hard square up. Kirby continues to assault batters with it across a variety of counts, including two-strike counts, which tends to throw batters for a loop. In addition to that, he throws a cutter/slider (which really does tend to be a slider-ish cutter sometimes, and a slider other times) and a curveball, none of which really glimmer the way his fastball does, as well as mixing in a sinker and changeup here and there. My guess is that Kirby’s success is driven in part by hitters being very surprised with a procession of two-strike fastballs, but alternative theories are welcome!
Fortunately for the Braves, though, they have the luxury of sending the scintillating Max Fried to the hill to oppose Kirby. Fried, well, you know about Fried. He’s third in the NL and fourth in MLB in fWAR, and has a 71/76/79 line that’s not even that much worse than Kirby’s amazing last 10 starts. By ERA/FIP/xFIP, Fried has 3/2/1 starts above 4.50 and 5/4/2 above 4.00 all season. He has a 27/4 K/BB ratio over his last five starts, and fired five hitless frames against the Marlins last time out before, like Kirby, being forced out by rain.
Both Fried and Kirby have been incredibly stingy with the longball this year, which sets up an intriguing duel between two teams who hit seven homers to score nine of the ten total runs plated in last night’s game. This could be a close one, but it could also be decided by which team the HR/FB gods favor in this one.
Atlanta Braves @ Seattle Mariners
Saturday, September 10, 2022
9:10 pm EDT
T-Mobile Park, Seattle, WA
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online / Ch. 89