After an off day on Thursday, the Atlanta Braves will continue their road trip Friday when they begin a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. The Braves’ trip got off to a rough start as they dropped the first two games in Oakland before avoiding a sweep with a 4-2 win Wednesday.
Atlanta went 15-14 in May, but will enter Friday’s series opener ten games above .500 at 33-23. They currently hold a 3.5-game lead over the New York Mets, who completed a sweep of the Phillies with a 4-2 win Thursday. The Braves will face the Mets in Atlanta next week, but for now, their attention turns to a Diamondbacks team that is playing as well as anyone over the last couple of weeks.
Arizona comes into the series riding a six-game winning streak after a walk-off win over the Rockies Thursday. They are 34-23 on the season and are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the top of the NL West standings. The Diamondbacks entered play Thursday sixth in the majors in runs scored and just behind the Braves who are fifth. Arizona has a deep lineup that is led by rookie Corbin Carroll (141 wRC+) and offseason acquisition Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (142 wRC+). Also, Geraldo Perdomo has a 135 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR after spending the first 537 PAs of his career hitting for a 62 wRC+ Their pitching staff ranks in the middle of the pack overall, but has one of the best one-two punches in the majors in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, both of whom will pitch in the series.
If you’re looking for a silver lining for the Braves, it could be that the Diamondbacks have been more fortunate offensively than anyone else in baseball. Their team xwOBA is in the bottom ten, at .313, but their team wOBA is eighth in MLB, at .328. That .015 gap is the largest for any team in baseball, and it looks even more stark when you look at their specific players. Of the 250ish players with the most PAs so far this season, Perdomo has far and away the biggest xwOBA overperformance, at just under .100 — he’s not actually hitting any better than he was before, just benefiting from a deluge of good fortune when he makes contact. Carroll and Gurriel are both in the top 25 (i.e., the top decile) of xwOBA overperformers. Ketel Marte is in the top 50. By comparison, the Braves only have one guy in the top 40 (Orlando Arcia), and no one else in the top 100.
The Diamondbacks are a good defensive team, so their main soft spot is the bullpen, which is pretty thin after backend guys Andrew Chafin and Miguel Castro. The Braves will need to field well, something that’s been a challenge for them, because the Diamondbacks put the ball in play instead of walking or striking out (though they’ve got plenty of pop, too), and not miss their chances in the middle innings, as the Diamondbacks aren’t a team that lets their starters pitch all that deep into games in most cases (even Gallen and Kelly are averaging about six innings per start).
Friday, June 2, 9:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Charlie Morton (10 GS, 57.2 IP, 24.5 K%, 9.3 BB% 47.3 GB%, 3.59 ERA, 3.80 FIP)
Charlie Morton will get the start for Atlanta in the series opener on Friday. Morton ended April strong and started May on a good note. He then got banged, around allowing six runs in a start against the Dodgers. He flirted with disaster in his last start allowing seven hits and a season-high four walks, but was able to limit the damage to just two runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Phillies, though the Braves were shut down by Zack Wheeler and lost anyway.
Merrill Kelly (11 GS, 63.2 IP, 27.4 K%, 9.9 BB%, 48.1 GB%, 2.83 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Right-hander Merrill Kelly will start opposite of Morton in Friday’s opener. Kelly closed out May strong, allowing just four runs combined over his last three starts (18 1/3 innings) with great peripherals. He allowed four hits one run and tied a season-high with 10 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings in his last start against Boston. Kelly has faced the Braves three times in his career and has allowed nine runs and three homers over 20 innings, though he held them scoreless for seven innings last year before the Braves won a 1-0 game thanks to a walkoff hit by Austin Riley.
Saturday, June 3, 10:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (11 GS, 63.2 IP, 41.6 K%, 8.6 BB%, 30.6 GB%, 2.97 ERA, 2.36 FIP)
Strider will make his 12th start of the season in Saturday’s matchup. Strider has put together a Cy Young-caliber season over the first two months. While he wasn’t quite as dominant in May as he was in April, he has given the Braves a chance and continues to lead the majors in strikeouts (106) and strikeout percentage (41.6 percent). Strider allowed two hits, two runs and struck out nine over six innings in his last start against the Phillies in a blowout win. The Diamondbacks were his opponent in his first career start just about a year ago, and they stacked the lineup with lefties against him and forced him out after 4 1⁄3 despite a 7/2 K/BB ratio.
Ryne Nelson (11 GS, 57.0 IP, 15.2 K%, 7.4 BB%, 40.5 GB%, 5.37 ERA, 4.76 FIP)
Right-hander Ryne Nelson will get the start for the Diamondbacks Saturday. Nelson’s season got off to a rough start, but he pitched better in May before getting knocked around in his last start. Nelson allowed eight hits, three walks and five runs in five innings last time out against the Rockies. Saturday will be his first career appearance against Atlanta. As a four-seam heavy pitcher who doesn’t really manage contact despite meager strikeout numbers, the Braves should try to feast here considering the other two starters they’ll have to face in Arizona.
Sunday, June 4, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Michael Soroka (1 GS, 6.0 IP, 11.5 K%, 7.7 BB%, 61.1 GB%, 6.00 ERA, 6.45 FIP)
Michael Soroka made his much-anticipated return to the majors Monday against Oakland where he allowed five hits and four runs over six innings. Soroka was impressive before a rough fifth inning skewed his final line. The good news is that he is sticking in the rotation and will pitch on regular rest which indicates that he is in a good place physically.
Zac Gallen (12 GS, 72.2 IP, 28.4 K%, 5.5 BB%, 38.3 GB%, 2.72 ERA, 2.09 FIP)
Right-hander Zac Gallen will close things out for Arizona in Sunday’s finale. Along with Strider, Gallen is one of the early favorites for the Cy Young Award in the National League, and leads all of MLB in fWAR at the time of writing. He doesn’t have the otherworldly strikeout numbers like Strider, but has been equally dominant over his first 12 starts, and hasn’t allowed a homer in two months. Gallen allowed five hits and struck out seven over six scoreless innings in his last start against Colorado. He has two career starts against Atlanta where he allowed eight hits, two runs and struck out 12 over 12 2/3 innings.