After another successful road trip, the Atlanta Braves will return home, where they will begin a seven-game home stand with a three-game series against the 2022 World Champion Houston Astros.
The Braves are 4-3 at Truist Park this season and all three of those losses came, one after the other, to the San Diego Padres. Atlanta closed out that homestand with a three-game sweep of the Reds and then won five straight on the road in Kansas City and San Diego before dropping a 1-0 decision to the Padres on Wednesday afternoon. The Braves are 14-5 on the season and currently hold a two-game lead in the NL East over the New York Mets. They’re second in MLB in position player fWAR, fifth in MLB in position player fWAR, are tied for MLB’s second-best record, and have the league’s third-best offensive inputs without adjusting for park.
After a rash of injuries to start the season, they’re also slowly starting to get healthy. Both Kyle Wright and Max Fried have returned to the rotation. Michael Harris II could return as soon as Friday’s series opener, and Collin McHugh recently began a rehab assignment and might be close behind. The outlook isn’t as clear for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who is on the 7-day Concussion Injured List, and hasn’t started ramping up activity yet.
With d’Arnaud out, Sean Murphy has carried the load behind the plate and is producing at the plate. Murphy went 7-for-22 with three doubles and three home runs on the road trip. The Braves are currently ranked eighth in the majors in runs scored and are sixth with a 112 wRC+ as a team.
On the flip side, for the Braves’ opponents in their successful 2021 title run, it is been a bit of a slow start for the Astros. Houston is just 9-10 so far, in an unfamiliar third place in the AL West. The Astros have alternated wins and losses for the last nine games, but did take two of three from the Blue Jays to close out their homestand. The Astros are seventh in position player fWAR and ninth in pitching fWAR, so they probably shouldn’t be 9-10.
With Jose Altuve out with a thumb injury suffered in the World Baseball Classic, Kyle Tucker has carried the offense through the early going hitting .313/.438/.547 to go along with a 178 wRC+ that actually includes him underhitting his xwOBA, somehow. Jose Abreu has really struggled in his first few weeks with his new team (69 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR, no xwOBA underperformance). David Hensley (34 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR) has also been brutal in the early going.
While the Braves will see many of their AL opponents this season for the first time in a while, these two teams tangled for three games in Atlanta last August. The Braves won two of three, including a win in a Kyle Wright start, and a walkoff victory in a game started by Cristian Javier, both of whom will pitch in this series (but not against one another).
Friday, April 21, 7:20 p.m. ET (Apple TV+)
Hunter Brown (3 GS, 18.2 IP, 23.3 K%, 8.2 BB%, 54.2 GB%, 1.93 ERA, 2.78 FIP)
Young right-hander Hunter Brown will get the call for the Astros in Friday’s series opener. Brown moved into the Astros’ rotation after the departure of Justin Verlander and is off to a good start this season. After allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings in his season debut, Brown has logged seven innings in each of his next two starts and allowed a combined three unearned runs (and zero earned runs) during the span against the Twins and the Rangers, while putting up a 12/3 K/BB ratio.
Brown throws hard but has really struggled with fastball command so far — his success is very much owed to his cutter-slider thing and his curveball, which have been well-spotted so far.
Bryce Elder (3 GS, 17.2 IP, 23.6 K%, 8.3 BB%, 50.0 GB%, 1.53 ERA, 2.58 FIP)
Bryce Elder began the season at Gwinnett, but has been a big part of the Braves’ good start to the season since joining the rotation. Elder allowed just eight hits over 12 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two starts of the season. He then allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 last time out against the Royals. With Max Fried and Kyle Wright both back, the fifth spot in the rotation is Elder’s to lose, and this game will be a tough test for him.
Saturday, April 22, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Framber Valdez (4 GS, 25.0 IP, 24.5 K%, 7.8 BB%, 67.2 GB%, 1.80 ERA, 3.04 FIP)
Left-hander Framber Valdez will make his fifth start of the season Saturday. Valdez has been a workhorse for the Astros and is off to a good start again in 2023. He allowed four hits and five runs over six innings, although only one was earned, during his last start against the Rangers. Valdez has allowed two earned runs or fewer in all four of his starts this season. He had a weirdly rough go of it against the Pirates, but has been lights out otherwise. Be prepared for a lot of ineffectual flailing at his curve and cutter; between Brown and Valdez, the Braves are going to be bombarded with two very different things nominally called “cutters” on back-to-back nights.
Kyle Wright (2 GS, 8.2 IP, 20.9 K%, 16.3 BB%, 70.8 GB%, 6.23 ERA, 4.36 FIP)
After a rough outing where he lost control of his sinker, Kyle Wright looked more like the 2022 version in his last outing in Kansas City, where he allows four hits and two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Wright pitched out of trouble again in the third inning and issued three more walks, giving him seven over his first 8 2/3 innings. Still, he struck out six Royals while throwing 95 pitches. He appears to be rounding into shape after a delayed start to the season.
Sunday, April 23, 1:30 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Cristian Javier (4 GS, 22.0 IP, 20.9 K%, 4.4 BB%, 37.3 GB%, 3.68 ERA, 4.05 FIP)
Right-hander Cristian Javier will make his fifth start of the season in Sunday’s finale. Javier was a big part of Houston’s success in 2022, but has had a bit of an up and down start to the season, where he was great in his first two starts and less great in the two since. He is coming off of a fine outing where he held the Blue Jays to three hits and one run, a solo homer, despite running up a high pitch count over five innings and ending his day with a 5/2 K/BB ratio. He gave up two homers to the Pirates in the outing before that one.
Max Fried (2 GS, 8.1 IP, 18.8 K%, 0.0 BB%, 57.7 GB%, 1.08 ERA, 1.88 FIP)
Max Fried picked right back up where he left off by tossing five scoreless innings against the Padres in his return from the Injured List. Fried suffered a hamstring strain on Opening Day that landed him on the injured list. He threw just 79 pitches in the start in San Diego and should be in line to return to a more normal workload Sunday.