clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Back in action, Braves look to slam returning Kopech

Charlie Morton gets the first start for Atlanta after the All-Star Break

MLB: JUL 09 Braves at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a well-deserved midsummer break, the Atlanta Braves are back in action on Friday night as they host a White Sox team that has failed to impress in pretty much any capacity and seek to improve their already MLB-best record. The Braves come into the season’s “second half” with a 60-29 record and an 8.5-game lead in the NL East; the White Sox limp out of the All-Star Break’s gates at 38-54, eight back in their division and 12.5 games out of the AL’s final Wild Card spot.

For the White Sox, this game is a bit more than just a return to play, because it’s also the return of starter Michael Kopech from a brief stint on the Injured List with shoulder inflammation. Kopech’s season is just one of many things that hasn’t gone well on the South Side, as he’s currently sitting on 0.0 fWAR in 16 starts thanks to a 96 ERA-, 127 FIP-, and 117 xFIP-, with an xERA somewhere between his FIP and xFIP. After a dominant year, mostly in relief, in 2021, Kopech underwhelmed in his first full year as a starter, and has been even worse this year. His pitch shapes have trended the wrong way over time, and this season he’s just way too in the zone with his offerings. When he was great in 2021, his slider was pinpoint on the corner; as he’s struggled as a starter, the slider both lost its two-plane movement (perhaps intentionally) and tends to hang over the plate. Despite good velocity and carry, his fastball is often thrown down the middle, which leads to pain for him and his teammates.

All of the above makes Kopech a potentially-comfy welcome mat for the Braves to ease back into the swing of... swinging. At this point, it’s hard to single out some specific aspect of a pitcher’s method or arsenal, because the Braves have just been crushing everything and are near the top of the league offensively against most pitch types and approaches, but Kopech seems especially ripe for the smashing — he had a nice four-start span earlier where it looked like he was on the verge of fulfilling some promise as a starter, but then reverted to junk-tier pitching, including a horrible run in his last three starts where he managed a combined 12/16 K/BB ratio, allowed two homers, and didn’t get past 13 outs in any of the starts.

As for the Braves, they’ll look to keep rolling merrily along behind Charlie Morton, who is sitting on 1.7 fWAR and a 78/89/89 line. That fWAR total has already surpassed his underwhelming 2022 amount (1.5). Morton continues to do an effective job of surviving despite his peripherals going backwards, getting just enough grounders and benefiting from enough fly balls not leaving the yard to keep things looking decent in his pitching line. If you look at his season, you can see the throughline of him working out his new approach — he struggled in his first four outings, but has been much more solid since, avoiding back-to-back blowups and stringing together runs of good starts for much of the rest of the year.

The White Sox shouldn’t pose too much of a danger to Morton, as their only premier offensive performer so far has been Luis Robert Jr., and he’s day-to-day with a calf ailment suffered during the Home Run Derby. There are a few guys like Jake Burger, Andrew Vaughn, and Eloy Jimenez that are doing okay or pretty well offensively, but the team has also given 1,760 of its 3,442 PAs so far (that’s over 51 percent) to guys with a sub-.300 wOBA and xwOBA. That’s pretty awful, and explains a lot of why the White Sox are where they are.

Game Info

Chicago White Sox @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, July 14, 2023

7:20 pm EDT

Truist Park, Atlanta, GA

TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM

XM Radio: Ch. 181

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Battery Power Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Atlanta Braves news from Battery Power