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Braves, Morton take on sizzling Snakes in Phoenix

Charlie Morton and the Braves could be in for a challenge tonight as they face a team that’s been playing great baseball

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

After a disappointing start to their road trip as a result of dropping two of three in Oakland, the Braves continue onward to a much stiffer challenge: the Arizona Diamondbacks. At 34-23, the Snakes are tied with the Dodgers atop the NL West, as well as for the NL’s best record (and the fourth-best record in MLB). The Braves are half a game behind, at 33-23, but while they scuffled a bit in May (15-14), the Diamondbacks have taken few prisoners en route to an 18-9 record in their last 27 games. The Braves will be trying to snap Arizona’s five-game winning streak, which was extended yesterday afternoon on a walkoff hit from Corbin Carroll that capped a victory in which the Diamondbacks never led, except on the play that ended the game.

Kicking off the series for Atlanta will be Charlie Morton, who comes into this game with an 81 ERA-, 90 FIP-, and 92 xFIP-. After four underwhelming outings to begin the year, Morton’s largely been much better since — 73/107/122 in those first four starts, and 86/79/73 since. The Braves will need him to keep rolling, because the Diamondbacks don’t look like they’re going to go down quietly: while running the league’s biggest xwOBA overperformance, they’ve averaged over five runs a game over the last month, and are generally towards the top of baseball in most offensive categories.

Morton made a start in Arizona last year and it wasn’t a good one: a 5/2 K/BB ratio and a homer allowed while being charged with four runs in five innings. The Braves led that game 6-2 at one point, but letting Morton start the third time through the order led to a couple of runs in the sixth, and the Braves ultimately blew lead altogether, and then blew a second lead in extra innings to take a walkoff loss. That turn of events is perhaps of some relevance here, since Morton’s third-time-through-the-order splits are awful this year, albeit in a relatively small sample so far. The Braves might need to figure out a better gameplan for Morton than the one they’ve used so far, as in Morton’s ten starts to date, he’s allowed meaningful (i.e., non-low-leverage) runs the third time through in five of them.

While Morton and the Braves’ defense will have to wrestle with containing Arizona’s attack, the Atlanta bats will also have their hands full with Morton’s mound opponent: Merrill Kelly. The now-34-year-old right-hander was signed out of the KBO ahead of the 2019 season, and has been more than solid for Arizona so far, posting an fWAR/200 above 3.0 across 636 23 innings of work, all in a starting role. This year, he’s pitching better than ever, with a 64/81/86 line that features way better peripherals than what he’s done in the past. He’s made a few changes approach-wise, including throwing way more changeups in lieu of fastballs, and altering the way he uses his fastballs (towards the edges as opposed to filling the zone for strikes and setting up other pitches), and it’s worked great for him so far as hitters haven’t walked enough to justify their extra swings at fastballs off the plate. Kelly has faced the Braves thrice in his career so far — twice in 2021 and once last year, throwing seven shutout innings in a game the Diamondbacks lost 1-0, on a walkoff Austin Riley hit in the latter contest.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves @ Arizona Diamondbacks

Friday, June 2, 2023

9:40 pm ET

Chase Field

Phoenix, AZ

TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan

XM Radio: Online/Ch. 186

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