After a tough stretch against the top of the American League and a dropped series against the Dodgers, the Braves look to bounce back against a divisional foe in the Phillies, whom they will host for four games. After a dominant 17-9 April, the Braves have fallen back down to earth with a solid, but not spectacular 12-10 record so far in May. Strangely, they have struggled at home, with a 13-12 record which pales in comparison to their 17-7 road record. Despite the home struggles, the Braves are still 30-19 and are 5.5 games ahead of the second-place Mets and Marlins.
The Braves look to improve their home results against a struggling Phillies team which sits in fourth in the division and three games under .500 at 23-26. They are 3-7 in their last 10 and a number of their star players are off to alarming starts this season.
The only hitter on the Phillies with an fWAR above 1.0 is Brandon Marsh, which is disturbing for a team which contains Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto, among others. The fact that Marsh is only above 1.0 fWAR because he’s massively outhitting his xwOBA is either a small consolation or an even more disturbing fact, depending on how you look at it. Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300 million contract in the offseason, has had the most alarming start. His wRC+ sits at a paltry 81, nearly 20 percent below league average, and way down from the 128 mark from last season. His strikeout rate has gone from 18.5 percent to 26.9 percent. He has a .276 xwOBA that he’s outhitting by .020; the only guys on his team with a worse xwOBA are rarely-used backups. None of this is ideal for a guy in the first year of a mega-deal. It is especially alarming, given that Turner’s athleticism-based profile isn’t one that tends to age well. Harper is just coming back from injury and the other guys starts can be dismissed as coming out of the gate slow, but that Turner contract has albatross potential unless he shapes up soon, which he should.
Overall, very little has gone right for the Phillies so far this year. They’ve had, as expected, one of the league’s worst defenses — but the offense has only been league-average, giving them nearly a bottom-10 position player corps. The pitching has been fantastic, as the stellar front two of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have been joined by new addition Matt Strahm, who has thrown together awesome numbers in a swing role so far. But, the defense has been an issue, which has made it harder for their great pitching to function and stick around. The Phillies probably shouldn’t be 23-26, i.e., BaseRuns has them at 25-24, but they don’t look like much more than fringy contenders given their overall roster. Still, that pitching staff is enough to give anyone problems in any given matchup.
In a very difficult run of games this month, the Braves have treaded water thanks to the outrageously good performances by Ronald Acuña Jr., who is tied for the lead among position players with teammate Sean Murphy.
Thursday, May 25, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Dylan Dodd (3 GS, 15.1 IP, 10 K%, 5.7 BB%, 39 GB%, 6.46 ERA, 5.69 FIP)
Dylan Dodd will get the spot start as the Braves continue to cobble together solutions while Kyle Wright and Max Fried are out with injuries. Dodd has been shaky in his three starts this season, as the numbers indicate. He is coming off of a quality start in his last big league appearance against the Marlins, but he only struck out one batter and gave up eight hits. With an arsenal that doesn’t blow guys away, Dodd has to mix his pitches well and really hit his spots, something the 24-year-old left-hander is still learning to do against big league competition.
Aaron Nola (10 GS, 62.2 IP, 21.3 K%, 5.2 BB%, 38.1 GB%, 4.31 ERA, 3.92 FIP)
The dependable Aaron Nola has gotten off to a somewhat slow start in his contract year. His strikeout and groundball rates are both at career lows. His FIP is also the highest it has been since 2019. However, he is coming off his first double-digit strikeout performance of the season, striking out ten over seven innings against the Cubs. His fastball velocity is down a tick this year as well, which is something to keep an eye on for a guy who has thrown a lot of innings the last five or six years. In an era known for pitching injuries, Nola is a guy that can reliably give a team 200 innings. He has a stellar 3.39 ERA, 3.88 FIP, and 3.82 xFIP in 188.2 innings against the Braves. The Braves faced him five times in the regular season and dropped three of those games last year, and also lost their playoff matchup against him in the NLDS.
Friday, May 26, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Jared Shuster (4 GS, 19.2 IP, 17.6 K%, 14.1 BB%, 31.6 GB%, 5.49 ERA, 5.06 FIP)
Jared Shuster has also had an uneven start to life in the big leagues, plagued by command issues and a lack of stuff. With a fastball that sits at 91 with an unremarkable movement profile, Shuster needs to rely on his secondary pitches have been good, which have not been able to compensate so far. That said, he is coming off his best big league start in four tries, where he only gave up one hit and one walk in six innings while striking out seven Mariners in his first career win. He will look to build off that start to secure a spot in the Braves rotation while Fried and Wright are on the shelf.
Taijuan Walker (10 GS, 46.2 IP, 21 K%, 11 BB%, 51.5 GB%, 5.79 ERA, 5.12 FIP)
Taijuan Walker has struggled mightily in the first year of his four-year, $72 million contract He has wrestled with his command, posting his worst walk rate since 2014. He has also been giving up more home runs, with his HR/9 going from 0.86 per nine to 1.54 per nine. This makes sense given he moved from Citi Field to the hitters’ paradise that is Citizen Bank Park. Those two things explain the regression from Walker. His velocity is stable and he’s never been a contact manager, so the uptick in walks and home runs is killing him. The good news is that if his HR/FB regresses, he should be a fine innings-eating option, though the outlook for a contact-oriented guy with the defense he has behind him is questionable.
Walker has struggled against the Braves in his career with a 5.14 ERA and 4.87 FIP (but a 4.04 xFIP) and an average of only four innings per start. A lot of that average was because the Braves destroyed him in one start last year, and he left his other start against them early with injury.
Saturday, May 27, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, FS1)
Charlie Morton (9 GS, 52.1 IP, 23.5 K%, 8.7 BB%, 47.7 GB%, 3.61 ERA, 3.97 FIP)
Charlie Morton got hit around by the Dodgers in his last start, giving up six runs in five innings, but prior to that, he had been quite effective. He had ten strikeouts in 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings in his start before that and has ERA estimators in the 3.40-3.80 range across his last seven starts, after two clunkers to begin the year. His curveball has been a dominant pitch this season, running a whiff rate above 40 percent so far. However, the fastball has been a liability this season with hitters teeing off against both his four-seamer and his sinker. This is despite the fact his velocity is the same as last season, where both were serviceable offerings. The curveball has been enough to carry his through starts and he will look to repeat that against the Phillies.
Historically, Morton has a high ERA against the Phillies (4.81) but a fine FIP and xFIP (3.86 and 3.83, respectively). Those numbers are even better since his renaissance, where everything is in the mid-3.00s or lower, despite a tougher run environment. With that said, he was pretty horrible against them last year, and all but eliminated the Braves from the playoffs with a poor outing in Game 4 of the NLDS. Hopefully the Braves actually acknowledge his challenges with lefties and keep him away from guys like Schwarber, Harper, and Marsh in key situations with runners on.
Zack Wheeler (10 GS, 57 IP, 26.1 K%, 5.7 BB%, 40.7 GB%, 4.11 ERA, 2.89 FIP)
Zack Wheeler has not pitched up to his standards so far this season, but a lot of that can be explained by bad luck, as seen by the wide gulf between his ERA and FIP. His BABIP is significantly above his career average, with the .327 tally well above his career rate of .301. He is coming off a mediocre start against the Diamondbacks where he had a quality start, but gave up three runs on eight hits with only three strikeouts. While he has not been the dominant ace he usually is, he has plenty of career success against the Braves with a 3.16 ERA in 152 IP against Atlanta. The underlying numbers are still there for Wheeler, but hopefully this isn't the game he breaks out.
Wheeler mostly dominated the Braves in three starts last year, but they took their only playoff win of the year against him, dinking him for three runs in NLDS Game 2.
Sunday, May 28, 7:10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Spencer Strider (10 GS, 57.2 IP, 41.5 K%, 9 BB%, 32.7 GB%, 2.97 ERA, 2.29 FIP)
Spencer Strider is the best strikeout artist in baseball right now. If he keeps up his 15.14 K/9 clip, he will be the first starter ever to strikeout over 15 batters per nine innings. He has 16 strikeouts more than any other pitcher in baseball despite being tied for 28th in innings pitched. He had yet another double-digit strikeout performance against the Dodgers with 11 punch outs in six innings. Despite having a 2.97 ERA, his peripherals are even better as seen by his 2.29 FIP and 2.55 xFIP. He has pitched 21 1⁄3 innings against the Phillies and they have been dominant, with the right hander posting a 1.27 ERA with 34 strikeouts.
The Phillies’ Sunday starter has yet to be announced. It’s possible that they will use a bullpen game with Dylan Covey providing bulk — after claiming Covey from the Dodgers, he did an awesome job in throwing five innings with a 6/1 K/BB ratio against the Diamondbacks.
The Phillies have not yet announced their pitching plans for Sunday’s game.