After a workmanlike 3-2 home stand against the Orioles and Red Sox, the Braves hit the road again to kick off a six game road trip. They start the trip with a three game set with the Blue Jays to finish off their tour of the AL East. They will then travel to Texas to face off with the resurgent Rangers.
The Braves have taken control of what has been a surprisingly pedestrian NL East, taking a 6.5 game lead into the series. The Phillies and Mets have underachieved so far this season, with both sitting below .500.
The Blue Jays sit in fourth in the AL East despite a solid 21-16 record. The Rays’ astonishing 29-9 start has given them pole position in a hyper-competitive division where all five teams are at least five games over .500. The Jays have been struggling lately, going 3-7 in their last ten. They are coming off a two-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies, which included a heartbreaker where the Phillies had a walkoff win on a Bo Bichette error.
The Blue Jays are spearheaded by a star-studded offense led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. They also have 2022 re-breakout star Matt Chapman, who has been on fire so far in his walk year. Guerrero, Bichette and Chapman all have a wRC+ above 150, with Chapman being particularly impressive with a 180 wRC+. Chapman has also already compiled 2 fWAR, which is fourth in the league, with both Sean Murphy and Ronald Acuña Jr. ahead of him. The issue for the Jays is that the rest of the lineup has not been up to par. George Springer has been particularly poor, with a 62 fWAR and a -0.5 fWAR, numbers that are extremely concerning for a 33-year-old. His exit velocity and hard hit rate have also fallen off a cliff this season. Offseason addition Brandon Belt has also had a slow start, with a 42.5 strikeout rate standing out.
On the injury front, just as it looked like the Braves were getting healthy, disaster struck: ace Max Fried went down with a forearm injury, leaving a rotation already without Kyle Wright searching for answers. Both Fried and Wright will be out for at least a couple months, meaning that Spencer Strider will have to carry the load and go deep into games on a consistent basis.
Friday, May 12, 7:07 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (7 GS, 40 IP, 42.4 K%, 8.9 BB%, 32 GB%, 2.70 ERA, 1.81 FIP)
Spencer Strider is coming off a fairly pedestrian start by his lofty standards against the Orioles. He got 10 strikeouts and only allowed two runs, but could only make it through five innings. This is the second straight outing where Strider has only made it through five innings. With Fried and Wright out for the foreseeable future, Strider might feel that he has to keep his pitch count under control and give the Braves length. Outside of that, Strider has been brilliant. His advanced numbers suggest he should be even better than his already stellar 2.70 ERA. He is also striking out over 15 batters per nine innings, a number that is something you see from an elite closer, not a starter. This makes sense because Strider pitches like a closer who can keep it up for inning after inning. He has never faced the Blue Jays.
Chris Bassitt (7 GS, 40 IP, 19.6 K%, 11.9 BB%, 40 GB%, 4.28 ERA, 5.34 FIP)
Chris Bassitt has gotten off to a shaky start in the first year of a three=year, $63 million contract with the Jays. He has seen his strikeout rate go down and his walk rate go up, which is not an ideal combination for the 34-year-old. His 5.34 FIP also suggests he is lucky to even have the middling 4.28 ERA he has. However, he is coming off seven scoreless innings against the Pirates, which could be the start of a turnaround, though his five strikeouts and four walks suggest this type of result was probably an aberration. He is also getting luck in the way of BABIP, with his .217 mark well below his career average as well as league average. Bassitt faced the Braves three times last season while on the Mets, pitching 15.2 innings with a 4.60 ERA.
Saturday, May 13, 3:07 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Bryce Elder (7 GS, 41.1 IP, 21.6 K%, 7.8 BB%, 58.3 GB%, 1.74 ERA, 3.67 FIP)
Bryce Elder’s breakout campaign continued in his last start, going 5.1 innings of one-run ball against the O’s. Despite allowing traffic on the base paths, Elder found a way to pitch out of trouble, like he usually does. Without Strider-like velocity, Elder has to rely on his savvy and keeping the ball on the ground, which he does at an elite rate with a 58.3 GB%. It would be highly surprising if Elder continued pitching to a sub-2.00 ERA, but even if he regresses to the 3.67 number that his FIP suggests he should be at, that is more than fine . Elder is another member of the rotation who is going to have to step up in the absence of Wright and Fried. He should be able to continue to eat innings despite his lack of flashy stuff.
Jose Berrios (7 GS, 40.1 IP, 24.6 K%, 4.8 BB%, 49.6 GB%, 4.91 ERA, 3.24 FIP)
Jose Berrios is coming off a nightmare 2022 where he had an ERA above 5.00. He comes into 2023 in the first year of a seven-year, $131 million contract he signed before 2022. While his ERA hovers around five once again, his 3.24 FIP suggests better things are in store for the right-hander. However, Statcast data suggest his 4.91 ERA is a fair reflection with his 5.04 xERA which takes batted ball data into account suggesting he’s even been slightly lucky. There are some positive signs for Berrios with his strikeouts up and walks down. He has faced the Braves once, getting torched to the tuned of nine runs in 5.2 IP.
Sunday, May 14, 1:37 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Yusei Kikuchi (7 GS, 21.6 K%, 5.2 BB%, 38.7 GB%, 3.35 ERA, 5.04 FIP)
Kikuchi is the opposite of Berrios in that his ERA is strong at 3.35, but his FIP of 5.04 suggests a rocky road for the Japanese left hander. Kikuchi is coming off 6.1 scoreless innings against the Pirates where he walked two and struck out three. In the start before that he got lit up by the Red Sox, giving up five runs and nine hits in 4.1 innings. Kikuchi is a high velocity pitcher with his fastball averaging 95.3 MPH from the left side, but home runs have been his nemesis throughout his career. His 1.91 HR/9 is not far off from his 1.73 HR/9 career mark. However, he has limited the walks to only 1.91 BB/9, by far the lowest mark of his career. The left-hander has never faced the Braves.
The Braves starter for Sunday is TBD..