The Braves reeled off a streak of 11 consecutive series wins from early June up to the All-Star Break. The first of those series wins came in Arizona, thanks to a miraculous ninth-inning, two-out grand slam by Eddie Rosario. The Braves then went on a nigh-unstoppable run, before a hiccup against the Chicago White Sox this past weekend in Atlanta that saw them drop two of three, giving them losses in three of their last four games.
As for the Diamondbacks, who entered that series against the Braves with the NL’s best record but then ceded it to Atlanta, things have not been so hunky-dory recently. The rest of June was more than fine, as they immediately won six straight after losing to Rosario’s slam. But, after their blazing start, they’ve largely tread water since, going 11-17 since that six-game winning streak. The real damage has come more recently, as Arizona is just 3-8 in July. They rang in the month with a win against the Angels that put them 16 games over .500, but then lost four in a row (including getting swept by the Mets), won two games, and then lost four in a row again (including a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays). The first loss of this most recent losing streak put them in a tie atop the NL West for the first time since Rosario’s slam; they fell out of first place for the first time since May 31 with a loss in the next game, and now find themselves in third place, two back of the Dodgers and a haf-game back of the Giants.
Overall, the Diamondbacks are still very dangerous. They’re the majors’ best baserunning team and play good defense while hitting pretty well. The pitching isn’t as good as the position players, and the bullpen is a work in progress, but they’ve made it all work quite well. What’s caused them to scuffle lately, though, has largely been the hitting... sorta.
Up through June 12, the Diamondbacks were a top-5 wOBA team despite a bottom-10 xwOBA. Needless to say, their wOBA-xwOBA gap was the largest favorable one in baseball. Since June 13, though, they’re bottom ten in both wOBA and xwOBA, with only the tenth-largest favorable wOBA-xwOBA gap. While both the wOBA and xwOBA are down over these past 28 games compared to before, the big difference is the evaporation of the huge wOBA-xwOBA gap.
The Braves’ bats have also cooled a fair bit in July (.341 wOBA, .334 xwOBA), but the Diamondbacks have been just awful (.280 wOBA, .290 xwOBA) this month. The latter will definitely need to get back to swinging it a bit better to stay relevant.
Tuesday, July 18, 7:20 pm ET (Bankruptcy Sports South)
Zach Davies (11 GS, 53 2⁄3 IP, 145 ERA-, 104 FIP-, 107 xFIP-, 109ish xERA-)
After missing about two months with an oblique injury, Zach Davies has returned to do his mediocre innings-eating shtick in Arizona’s rotation. Davies doesn’t really do anything particularly well, as evidenced by his ERA estimators, but he doesn’t get blasted that often. He’s struck out six batters in both of his July starts, just the second and third times this year he’s had more than four punchouts in a game. The Braves missed him in Arizona earlier this year and haven’t faced him since 2021, when they smashed him twice against the Cubs; he has a career 5.47 FIP and 5.28 xFIP in four lifetime outings against Atlanta.
Bryce Elder (18 GS, 106 IP, 67 ERA-, 97 FIP-, 96 xFIP-, 92ish xERA-)
Elder ended a breakout first half with a real sour note-slash-clunker outing in the Braves’ final contest before the All-Star Break, as he had an abominably bad start with zero strikeouts, four walks, and two homers allowed. The Braves, who have leaned heavily on Elder to compensate for a flotilla of pitching injuries, will have to hope that it was just a case of the right-hander being off his game, rather than a newfound inability to spin the ball in a way that avoids bats and/or barrels. While Elder probably deserves some benefit of the doubt because his ERA estimators are all still fine, it’s worth noting that he’s now had three bad starts by xFIP in a row.
Wednesday, July 19, 7:20 pm ET (Bankruptcy Sports South)
Ryne Nelson (19 GS, 99 1⁄3 IP, 113 ERA-, 110 FIP-, 116 xFIP-, 115ish xERA-)
Speaking of innings-eating, that’s largely all that rookie Ryne Nelson has managed to do while starting consistently for his contending club. He’s had his fair share of appreciated outings, like a couple on the road where he allowed a run in seven innings despite an xFIP in the high 4.00s or low 5.00s, but largely has just taken the ball and done a non-disastrous job. Against the Braves earlier this year, Nelson somehow had a 0/4 K/BB ratio in 4 2⁄3 innings, but was “only” charged with three runs in a 5-2 Braves win. He hasn’t really pitched better or worse as the year has gone on, and is pretty much just out there hoping that good command of his four-seamer and slider/sweeper thing can carry enough of the day to give his team a chance to win. Nelson seems to have a lot of tools to work with in terms of pitch shape, arsenal, and the like, but he hasn’t thrown his four-seamer high enough in the zone to benefit, and his cutter/slider and changeup command have been poor.
Charlie Morton (18 GS, 104 IP, 72 ERA-, 87 FIP-, 89 xFIP-, 101ish xERA-)
Morton continues to find a way to thrive despite some challenges on the pitch mix and effectiveness front, and he’s on a roll of six straight solid-to-great starts. While he’s had the occasional hiccup, Morton’s season at this point looks to be a story where adjusting to an alternative attack approach took a few games early in the year, and he’s been dealing since. There are still weaknesses to exploit in how he attacks hitters, but he hasn’t had to pay the price too often. The Diamondbacks struck out nine times to just two walks against him across seven innings earlier this year, though the Braves still dropped that game. Morton has 13 career starts against the Diamondbacks with a combined 3.41 FIP and 3.60 xFIP (compared to 3.76 for both for his career as a whole).
Thursday, July 20, 12:20 pm ET (Bankruptcy Sports South)
Zac Gallen (20 GS, 123 1⁄3 IP, 71 ERA-, 68 FIP-, 80 xFIP-, 86ish xERA-)
Tough customer Zac Gallen will face the Braves for a second time this year in the series finale. Gallen doesn’t always have a great outing, but he has one often enough to rack up the value. He’s second in MLB in pitching fWAR, behind Kevin Gausman, with 3.7, though a low HR/FB suggests some room for regression. Over the last few weeks, he’s had disappointing performances against Detroit and Milwaukee, while dominating the Pirates and Guardians, so there’s no real pattern to his performance — he just kind of does what he does and it ends up pretty great. The Braves hung in against him, scoring two runs, including a homer, while he racked up a 6/1 K/BB ratio in what eventually became the Rosario grand slam game. For his career, Gallen now has a 3.62 FIP and 3.91 xFIP against the Braves in three starts (compared to marks of 3.42 and 3.64, respectively, overall).
Spencer Strider (19 GS, 110 2⁄3 IP, 83 ERA-, 66 FIP-, 64 xFIP-, 70ish xERA-)
Having Strider oppose Gallen should make this a fun pitching matchup for everyone but the batters in the game, as Strider is fifth in MLB with 3.2 fWAR to Gallen’s 3.7. Strider has pretty much pitched even better than Gallen, but doesn’t have the benefit in HR/FB terms to edge him production-wise. Strider is coming off a bonkers outing where Rosario’s misadventures in left field pretty much upended his start, helping to give the White Sox four of their five runs in a game where he otherwise notched a 10/0 K/BB ratio. The mustachioed hurler has struck out nine or more batters in each of his last five starts, and has been largely dominant after a rough patch in early June.
Strider beat Ryne Nelson in Arizona earlier this year, despite one of those rough patch outings that involved a season-high four walks. He struck out seven and allowed a homer in the process. This will be his third career start against the Diamondbacks, and he’s probably hoping it’s the first unequivocally good one.