Come Friday, the final phase of the Braves’ 2022 season kicks off. This stretch features a homestand where the Phillies and Nationals come to town, featured by a road trip where the Braves will visit the Phillies and Nationals. Then it’s back home for a key series with the Mets, and on the road to Miami to wrap up the regular season — with that final series being a straight-up rescheduling of the series that was supposed to open the season but didn’t due to the lockout and subsequent negotiations.
Given this scheduling quirk, the Braves will play seven of their 19 regular-season games against the Phillies over the next ten days. The first of those happens tonight, with a pitching matchup between two southpaws that’s already happened once this season: Ranger Suarez for Philadelphia, and Max Fried for Atlanta.
Suarez is wrapping up a decent first season for the Phillies as a full-time starter. He has an 88/89/92 (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-) line, which is probably more remarkable for its consistency and lack of baseball shenanigans than it is for its overall performance. Suarez posted a 32/63/79 line last year, including 36/54/80 across 12 starts to end the season, so his full-season line is probably a minor bummer for himself and the team, but he’s been a perfectly fine, 2.5ish fWAR starter overall.
Suarez has been considerably more effective since the All-Star Break: 70/71/82 in nine starts. He had eight homerless starts (out of 16) before the Break, and has seven since, with no multi-homer games. Suarez is the somewhat-rare sinkerballer whose sinker does a good job managing contact overall, but he’s nonetheless changed his profile over the season to throw fewer of those and considerably more cutters and curveballs, which has appeared to help substantially. His rarely-used curveball has been a highly effective offering so far.
Yet, despite the positive changes, Suarez has had a weird last few games. He’s given up 13 runs (nine earned) in his last 14 1⁄3 innings over three starts, even though he has a 12/5 K/BB ratio and has allowed just a single homer in those games. The Phillies’ defense has caused problem for him in two of those three games, and strand rate’s been an issue in all three. The Braves will take a continuation of that, for sure, but don’t count on it.
Speaking of highly-effective curveballs, well, the Braves have the luxury of throwing Max Fried against Philadelphia to open this series. Fried has a 60/67/77 line on the year, and his 4.8 fWAR is tied for fourth in MLB among pitchers. There was a scintilla of a chance that Fried would saunter ahead of Carlos Rodon and Aaron Nola for the overall fWAR lead over his last few starts, but the combination of Fried giving up two homers in a start to the Mariners (-0.1 fWAR in total, the only start this season in which he’s lost value) and Rodon trouncing the Braves again on Wednesday (+0.4 fWAR in the game) has made that really unlikely.
Two-homer blip against the Mariners aside, Fried’s been an awesome version of himself all season. His 4.8 fWAR is by far a career high (he finished last year with 3.8), and he’s walked just 28 guys in 27 starts, without suffering any real dropoff in his strikeout rate from prior years. After jokingly wondering for years, “When is Fried going to randomly add a changeup like he did a slider?” well, guess what: Fried added a changeup, and now has two pitches that have yielded a .199 xwOBA-against, instead of just one.
The Braves have split their first 12 games with the Phillies so far. These two teams split a four-game series and then a two-game series in Atlanta; each team has won a series in Philadelphia. Fried and Suarez have factored into the season series between these two teams more than once, including in the same game.
- On May 24, Fried threw six innings of 5/2 K/BB ratio, two-run ball against the Phillies in Atlanta. The Braves ended up winning 6-5 in walkoff fashion after Fried departed a 2-2 game.
- The next day, Suarez had one of his worst starts of the year against the Braves, with just a 4/4 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed in 4 1⁄3 innings. He actually departed with a tie, 4-4 game, but the Braves scored one of his baserunners after he departed and ended up cruising to an 8-4 wins.
- On June 29, the Braves again beat Suarez, this time with him putting up a 7/2 K/BB ratio, but nonetheless being charged with four runs while lasting 6 2⁄3 innings. In this one, the Braves cruised a 4-1 win.
- Lastly, Fried and Suarez faced off on July 25. This game the Braves finally lost, though not directly due to Fried or Suarez. Fried “allowed” three runs in six innings despite an 8/0 K/BB ratio; Suarez had each of the four runs that scored on the Phillies in his five innings be the result of a defensive issue — the Braves benefited from a three-run error and then scored that runner on a wild pitch. However, the Braves dropped the game in painful fashion, as Bryson Stott hit a three-run homer off A.J. Minter late to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead that ultimately stood as the final score.
In case you weren’t aware (you were), both teams are locked into relatively low-stakes playoff races at this point. The Braves trail the Mets by a single game in the NL East; the winner of that race will almost certainly get a bye for the first round of the postseason. (It is possible the Cardinals catch them, but they’re five back in the loss column with around 20 games to play.) The Phillies have a 2.5-game lead on the Padres for the fifth seed in the NL playoffs, though it’s not actually clear whether the combination of the Phillies/Padres/Brewers are better off with the fifth seed and playing the Braves/Mets on the road, or getting the sixth seed and playing the Cardinals on the road, so it’s not clear that it really matters. The Phillies trail the Braves by eight games in the division, so unless something wild happens, they won’t be taking over four seed or division itself.
Date: Friday, September 16, 2022
Time: 7:20 pm EDT
Location: Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bally Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 182