Through three starts, Bryce Elder has had a phenomenal start to his 2023 season. First, he spun six scoreless frames against the Cardinals. Then he really wowed by putting together a 7/1 K/BB ratio across 6 1⁄3 innings against the Reds. He finally gave up some runs last Saturday in Kansas City, and the 4/2 K/BB ratio wasn’t particularly great, but when your worst of three outings is a league-average xFIP-, you’re on solid ground.
But, tonight, Elder will be tested, because the 2022 MLB titleholders, the Houston Astros, are coming to town for a weekend three-game set. To be fair, the Astros haven’t exactly lit it up thus far: their 103 wRC+ on the season is just 14th in MLB, and their .320 team xwOBA is even worse, at 17th in MLB. Kyle Tucker has been superhuman (177 wRC+, .459 xwOBA) so far, and there are other guys with good, unsupported outputs or good xwOBAs that are being seriously underperformed, but year-to-date stuff aside, the Astros still project to have one of the four best offenses in MLB, so it shouldn’t be an easy ride for Elder.
On the flip side, the Braves will get a crack at Hunter Brown, a top prospect that’s wowed in the early going. His first start was not great (5/3 K/BB ratio, four runs in 4 2⁄3 innings against the Tigers), but since then he’s dominated, throwing 14 innings with a 12/3 K/BB ratio and no earned runs charged to his ledger. As a result, Brown already has 0.6 fWAR on the year, matching his total from 20 1⁄3 major league innings last year. He’s the holder of a 33 ERA-, 58 FIP-, and 80 xFIP- in the majors so far, so like Elder, the Braves’ bats will also have their work cut out for them. Brown gets a ton of grounders, so the Braves might want to get the grounderitis out of their system before the game begins...
One thing to watch in this game, just for the sake of interest, will be Brown’s slider-cutter thing. Baseball Savant calls it a slider, but it comes in at 92 mph and is thrown frontdoor to right-handers and basically grooved to left-handers for a tought-to-hit, impossible-to-elevate strike.
The Astros, overall, come into this game with a 9-10 record, but that feels like a quirk since they’ve been above-average everywhere, albeit with some targeted struggles, like Jose Abreu’s poor start with his new team. They’re third in the AL West at present behind the upstart Rangers. The Braves, meanwhile, are tied for the best record in the NL (second-best in MLB) and hold a 1.5-game lead over the Mets in the NL East, ranking fifth in both position player fWAR and pitching fWAR.
Houston Astros @ Atlanta Braves
Game Date/Time: Friday, April 21, 2023, 7:20 pm ET
Location: Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Apple TV+ (I apologize, despite it being no fault of my own, in advance on behalf of MLB’s balkanized viewing landscape)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 181