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Charlie Morton’s path to a 2023 rebound starts in St. Louis as Braves open weekday set with Cardinals

Charlie Morton helped end the Braves’ 2022 season. Can he instead turn things around and give their 2023 April a nudge forward?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Morton did not have a good 2022 season, and it is likely that Braves’ fans most recent memory of him involves Game 4 of the NLDS, where a three-run homer put Atlanta on the fast track to elimination before a liner off the elbow forced Morton out of the game. That homer probably didn’t feel like a surprise by the time it came — hit by a lefty, Brandon Marsh, it reinforced a worrying pattern in Morton’s 2022, where he managed just a 5.11 FIP, while giving up a homer once every 20.2 PAs, when facing left-handed hitters.

Overall, Morton’s season was really damaged by the damage he allowed to lefties. Against righties, he posted the best xFIP of his career revival (3.13), and the FIP (3.41) was not dissimilar to what he managed in 2021 (3.40), albeit made somewhat worse by the diminished run environment of 2022. That said, his xFIP against lefties (4.09) was his worst in a full season (excluding 2020) since 2015, and especially concerning because before 2022, he had straight-dominated lefties, posting sub-3.15 xFIPs in every full season since his renaissance began. The end result was a disappointing 1.5 fWAR in 172 innings of work, with his worst ERA- (105) in a non-shortened season since 2015, his worst FIP- (108) since 2015, and his worst xFIP- (90) in a non-shortened season since 2015 as well.

The good news among all this is that you could look at Morton’s 90 xFIP- from last year and say, “No problem! That HR/FB should regress, and then he’ll be above-average.” His pitch shape didn’t change very much between his great 2021 and his blah 2022, and his overall pitching style was similar. The bad news is that nonetheless, 2022 still happened, and so, Morton’s 2023 could go one of a few ways — some of them great, but not all of them.

One thing is for sure, though: Morton’s first outing of 2023 is not going to keep him insulated from lefties. The Cardinals have lefty-swingers throughout the lineup, including Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and Tommy Edman. That means Morton is going to have to deal with a bunch of lefties, then the terrific twosome of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and then a bunch of lefties again. If he hasn’t figured out how to stop the lefty longball, it could be a short night for him and a long night for the Braves. If he has, well, don’t assume he’s going to have an easy time of it anyway, as the Cardinals have spent their season-opening series raking (teamwide 202 wRC+).

So, what’s the Braves’ edge in this game? Well, it has to do with the fact that they’re going to be facing Jake Woodford. To be clear: Woodford isn’t horrible or anything. The 26-year-old righthander has pitched in a relief/swingman capacity for the Cardinals in parts of the past three seasons, and tallied 0.6 combined fWAR in 137 innings, with an 89 ERA-, 106 FIP-, and 112 xFIP-. His pitching style attempts to be very grounder-oriented: he attacks righties with sinkers in and four-seamers up and away, while mixing in a sweeper as a surprise, in-the-zone offering; lefties are mostly challenged with sinkers away and then a kitchen sink’s worth of stuff to try and steal strikes. If the Braves can avoid falling into the travails of grounderitis, they shouldn’t have a hard time offensively. If they play right into Woodford’s hands, however, it could be another offensive bummer of a game.

Overall, with the questions about Morton lingering, this is probably the Braves’ best chance to win a game in this series. It’s a toss-up to be sure, but a bit more favorable than the pitching matchups looming over the next two games.

Game Info

Monday, April 3, 2023

7:45 pm EDT

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

TV: Bally/Ch. 11 Bankruptcy Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan

XM Radio: Online / Ch. 182

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