The Braves have been been absolutely outstanding in June, going 20-4 heading into the month’s last game on Friday. However, the Marlins have remained in striking distance, sitting 6.5 games back thanks to an 18-7 June so far. Miami has taken off with an offense led by .400-chasing Luis Arraez and MLB’s fourth-best pitching staff that’s thrived despite some struggles by Sandy Alcantara, who is nonetheless tied for the team pitching fWAR lead with 1.9.
The Marlins have also had Lady Luck on their side this season, with many of the metrics suggesting they are overperforming. Despite a 47-34 record this season, they have a negative run differential and a 41-40 BaseRuns record. Their performance to date is driven by going 19-5 in one-run games. While winning one-run games is not entirely luck-based, 19-5, no team has won more than even 70 percent of their one-run games since the 2016 season. They have also bullied the worst teams in baseball, going a combined 12-0 against the Nationals, Royals and Athletics.
Miami’s offense is heavily reliant on Jorge Soler and Luis Arraez, who are their only regulars with a wRC+ over 110, with marks of 135 and 158 respectively. Arraez has been unbelievable in his maiden campaign in Miami, hitting .396 with a .447 OBP. For the Braves to get the series win, they will have to contain those two guys, because there’s not much else in the lineup that poses a threat. Instead, what the Marlins do is prevent runs with their arms, as there are few soft spots on their pitching staff.
Friday, June 30, 7:20 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
The Braves will announce their starter Friday morning, but the expectation is that it will be Michael Soroka. The Canadian right-hander struggled mightily in two big league starts earlier this season, and is still learning to pitch with revamped mechanics.
Bryan Hoeing (18 G, 4 GS, 35 IP, 20.1 K%, 9 BB%, 48.5 GB%, 2.31 ERA, 3.56 FIP)
Bryan Hoeing has been pretty good for the Marlins in a variety of different roles. He has been used as both a reliever and as a makeshift starter. He does not go very deep into games when he starts, never going more than five innings, but he has been effective in that role. With him on the mound, it means that it will be a bullpen day of sorts, especially if he struggles early in the game. Hoeing operates mainly with a two-pitch mix, with the fastball and slider. He throws his fastball over 60 percent of the time, mostly of the sinker variety. However, his slider has been his best offering, with a 35.2 whiff rate and a .136 batting average against. He had a cup of coffee in the majors last season where he was hit hard, but this season his fastball velocity is up over a tick and he has been much more successful. In three appearances against the Braves, he has been lit up, allowing seven runs in only six innings, with as many walks as strikeouts.
One thing to keep in mind with Hoeing is that his line is what it is because he has a teeny-tiny 5.6 percent HR/FB at the moment. With the balls flying out of Atlanta, and off Braves’ bats recently, things could go south in a hurry if the Braves can elevate his stuff.
Saturday, July 1, 4:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Charlie Morton (15 GS, 85 IP, 26.3 K%, 10.3 BB%, 45.3 GB%, 3.81 ERA, 3.85 FIP)
Charlie Morton’s curveball might be the best pitch in baseball. Baseball Savant’s run value has it as tied for the best with Gerrit Cole’s four seam fastball. Despite that, Morton has been struggling on the surface lately, with a 5.02 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP over his past seven starts, though this is largely an artifact of things outside of his control as his peripherals in that span are fine-to-good in that same span (4.02 FIP, 3.78 xFIP). Morton’s fastball continues to be a work in progress, and his walk rate won’t stay down, which has limited the length of his outings. He has walked multiple batters in all but one of his starts this season. In his last start against the Reds, Morton had to work with 10 baserunners in five innings, though he still struck out seven, so hopefully he see better results this weekend. He has been solid against the Marlins in his long career, pitching to a 3.82 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and 3.33 xFIP in 129.2 career innings.
Eury Perez (9 GS, 47 IP, 29.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 29.6 GB%, 1.34 ERA, 3.04 FIP)
Is Eury Perez a generational pitching prospect? He very well could be! At 20 years old and 6’8”, a size where most pitchers struggle with control and take a longer time to develop,. Perez has limited free passes while taking the minor leagues by storm before dominating the big leagues in his first two months in the majors. In his five June starts, covering 28 innings, Perez has been charged with only one run. That is a 0.32 ERA if you are curious, and it’s backed up by a 1.77 FIP and 3.18 xFIP. He has three baffling secondary pitches that all have a whiff rate above 40 percent. In fact, his worst pitch on a batter-against basis is a 98 MPH fastball that gets great carry but hasn’t been well-located so far. Perez is on a strict innings limit this season, so he has never gone more than six innings, despite the fact he easily could have on multiple occasions. So, he’s thrown gems but gets pulled after six while at around 85 pitches. The Braves might just need to outlast him if they can’t hit him.
Sunday, July 2, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (16 GS, 91.2 IP, 38.9 K%, 8.5 BB%, 30.1 GB%, 3.73 ERA, 3.11 FIP)
After experiencing real adversity for the first time at the big league level, Spencer Strider has responded wonderfully, giving up two runs in 13 innings while striking out 19 across his last two starts. His velocity has ticked back up and he has been avoiding the longball which was haunting him in prior stats. He has also been turning to his changeup more against left-handed hitters, which has been a real weapon for him. He has a 54.2 whiff rate on the pitch, which is exceptional for a clear third option. The only worrying thing for Strider right now is how much he has been getting barreled up this season. Last year, hitters had a 6.1 barrel rate against him, but this season it is up to 10.4 percent, a mark that ranks in the 19th percentile. Strider has only pitched nine innings against the Marlins in his career, where he has given up three runs and struck out 13.
Sandy Alcantara (16 GS, 102.2 IP, 19.3 K%, 7.2 BB%, 48.9 GB%, 4.83 ERA, 3.69 FIP)
Sandy Alcantara has been nowhere near the pitcher that won the Cy Young Award last season, but that’s mostly just because he was so dominant last year. He is still averaging nearly 6.5 innings per start and his velocity is basically the same, but the results have not been there. His FIP- is still good, at 87, but it was 77 last year. The xFIP- is more average-y at 96, when it was 83 last year. He is striking out fewer guys, walking more and not generating as many ground balls. He showed signs of turning it around in his last start against the Red Sox, where he went seven innings while giving up only one run. He has also “dominated” the Braves in his career, pitching to a 2.67 ERA in 77.2 innings despite a 3.55 FIP and 4.38 xFIP. His primary secondary pitch is a nasty changeup that has a 35.5 whiff rate that has yet to be tagged for a homer this season. However, even that pitch has allowed a batting average of .295. Let’s hope Alcantara’s diminished performance persists on Sunday because if he can build off of his last start, it could be a tough afternoon for the Braves.