From May 10 through June 2, the Braves struggled to get much going, winning back-to-back just twice, and never reeling off three wins in a row. Things have been different lately, as the Braves have already managed a seven-game winning streak in June, and after a brief two-game skid, have now won three in a row. They’ll get a chance to push it to four in a row, which would be their fourth winning streak of at least that many games on Friday night as they continue their series with the Colorado Rockies.
After the AJ Smith-Shawver/Michael Tonkin combo mostly dominated in the series opener, Jared Shuster will get a chance to try and do the same in what will be a third consecutive game in which the Braves rely on a rookie starter. Shuster’s overall line remains uninspiring: a 113 ERA-, 106 FIP-, and an avert-thine-eyes 143 xFIP- (with an xERA in line with his ERA), but he’s at least been somewhat better in his last four outings (83/92/133) than his first three (162/128/160), even if he’s still just getting by on smoke, mirrors, and the grace of fly balls not leaving the yard. His last time out, he pulled off the remarkable, going five innings against the Nats without walking out or striking out anyone — he was charged with three runs in five innings without yielding a homer. It was just the tenth start by anyone this season with at least five innings and zero strikeouts, and one of just three starts all year that included 5+ IP, zero strikeouts, zero walks, and zero homers. The Braves hadn’t had a starter do it since a Tim Hudson start against the Marlins in 2012.
In some ways, it’s nice for Shuster that he’s facing what is now the worst offense in baseball, because one of the big challenges for him has been a lack of anything to grab onto and ride to success. His pitches aren’t anything special, and he continues to heavily feature a non-descript four-seamer that is largely forced down the middle. He doesn’t have good splits in pretty much any cut (not even against lefties), but the Braves are still 3-4 in his starts, so it’s been whatever so far. One potential huge saving grace: the Rockies are by far the worst team against lefties this year (61 wRC+, the next-worst team is at 77), so things could not really be set up to be any easier for Shuster this time around.
While Shuster endeavors to have a good outing against a weak opponent, the Rockies will be starting a guy who is desperately trying to resurrect his once-promising career: Dinelson Lamet. From 2017-2020, Lamet compiled an elite 5.2 fWAR in 256 1⁄3 innings (all starts). He missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but came back even stronger and posted a career-high 2.5 fWAR during the shortened 2020 season. Unfortunately, though, continued elbow issues began to sap Lamet’s effectiveness afterwards, turning him into an average-y swingman instead of a dominant starter. Adding insult to injury and diminished effectiveness, he was part of a bizarre sequence last August where the Brewers insisted on having him be part of the return in the Josh Hader trade, only to DFA him due to a roster crunch the day after the trade. Lamet was claimed by the Rockies after the DFA and has muddled around in Colorado since: 41 2⁄3 innings, including three starts, and a 150/98/104 line.
After a bunch of relief outings, Lamet has returned to the rotation, but he’s been more of a short-stint starter at this point. His first two outings were three innings each; he completed five innings for the first time in nearly two years in his most recent outing. He hasn’t been any more effective as a starter over these three games, either: 163/82/105. Once a very hard thrower with excellent carry on two different fastballs and a slider/cutter secondary, Lamet’s struggles have turned him into a slider/cutter-first guy who really struggles to repeat his mechanics and keep his pitches working the way he wants throughout an outing. The slider thing is still fantastic, being thrown hard enough to get tons of whiffs and fluster hitters, but the fastballs are just hurled in without any consistency in location and little in their motion, which makes Lamet easy to wait out, hence his absurd walk rate of right around 15 percent this year.
The Braves have faced Lamet five times — two starts before his fall, and three relief outings after. His career numbers against them are great — a 2.79 FIP and 2.78 xFIP — but he keeps trending down and hasn’t started against them since 2019.
Atlanta Braves vs. Colorado Rockies
Friday, June 16, 2023
7:20 pm EDT
Truist Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Ch. 177