The Braves wagered their six-game winning streak in Philadelphia earlier this week and won both games in a rain-shortened series, making them winners of eight in a row. On Friday night, they will find themselves in a different venue, but a similar metaphysical locale, as they head to Cincinnati to put their streak on the line again by facing the red-hot Reds, who have reeled off 11 wins in a row.
Yes, the Reds are scorching. They’ve won 21 of their last 29 games, which has rocketed them up to the top of a fairly pathetic NL Central with a 40-35 record, giving them a 1.5-game lead on the Brewers. They haven’t been in first place since beating the Braves on Opening Day last year, haven’t been in first alone since April 18, 2021, and haven’t been in first as late as June 23 since their division-winning 2012 season (excluding the first day of play in 2020, that is). The Braves, though, are no less fearsome: they’re now squarely in possession of MLB’s second-best record, and are just two games back of the Rays for MLB’s best mark.
The Braves swept the Reds in Atlanta earlier this season, but each of the three games was a one-run affair. They walked it off in extras on Sean Murphy’s homer off Derek Law in the opener, survived a bad Kyle Wright outing with a comeback win the next day, and then capped the sweep by coming back three separate times and leveraging a game-winning Eddie Rosario homer in the eighth.
If there’s a knock on both of these teams, even during their streaks, it’s the starting pitching, which should make a head-to-head set of matchups pretty amusing: pair some succeeding offenses with bad pitching in a teeny-tiny park, and watch the fireworks fly, I guess. The Braves might not have a difficult time of that tonight, as the Reds are set to start Luke Weaver, who hasn’t really done much but sponge up innings so far this year. Weaver has a 140 ERA-, 121 FIP-, and 107 xFIP- through 11 starts this year, with that FIP- good for 0.2 fWAR in 57 innings. His last two starts have been his worst of the year by xFIP, and the only two in which he’s walked more than he’s struck out. He’s avoided giving up a homer in just one of his five starts at home.
Weaver has really emphasized a strange slider-cutter pitch this year, and has good command of it, but it hasn’t really fooled hitters despite some unusual drop. However, he still relies heavily on a four-seamer that has little going for it, and his changeup only seems to benefit because it’s not his four-seamer, so he doesn’t look formidable on paper. Still, he’ll bust out the occasional effective outing, so anything’s possible.
The Braves, meanwhile, will hand the ball to AJ Smith-Shawver, after his spot in the rotation was delayed for a bit when the Braves moved Bryce Elder up to start Thursday’s finale in Philadelphia. Smith-Shawver has a 46 ERA-, 105 FIP-, and 110 xFIP- through his first 13 1⁄3 major league innings, and has had two very different starting experiences so far in his young career. In his first big league start ever, he had a 2/2 K/BB ratio but held the Nationals to incredibly weak contact otherwise; in his second outing, he allowed two solo homers but managed a 6/1 K/BB ratio. This might be the start he puts the contact management and strikeout/walk stuff together, but either way, it’s just his third career start, so it’s all just part of the learning experience at this point. I’m still interested in his curveball usage — it’s a great pitch that seems to be far more worthwhile as an offering than his slider, but hasn’t been used heavily so far. Maybe this is the game.
Friday, June 23, 2023
6:40 pm EDT
Great American Ball Park
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Ch. 175/Online