Well, friends, we’re certainly in the dog days of summer now. Sure, we know now that the heliacal rising of the Sirius system doesn’t cause lethargy and ague, but perhaps few would blame you for seeking cosmological explanations for why the Braves are 4-7 coming out of the All-Star Break after taking the baseball world by storm before the dog days descended. (The cosmological explanation: baseball.)
There are legitimate reasons for the Braves’ slide, to be sure. The defense has given away some games coming out of the break, which has put even more pressure on a pitching staff where injuries continue to pile up. While previously starters were being left in too long to “save the bullpen,” there is no longer much of a bullpen to speak of (on paper, anyway), and starters are now being left in too long because you’d rather not see the injury replacement cohort the Braves are carrying as a relief corps. Those things could be forgiven if the offense was continuing to mash, but maybe Sirius is having an influence after all, as the bats have been pedestrian output-wise since the Break (13th in wOBA). Of course, that influence is just as likely to be barreled balls having a bit too much languor, since the Braves are still sixth in xwOBA in those 11 games, and surprise surprise, this stretch of team struggles also dovetails with one of the larger xwOBA underperformances in baseball.
Anyway, part of the Braves’ current operating protocol is just to kind of hang out and wait for everyone to get healthy, which segues neatly into tonight’s starter: Yonny Chirinos, claimed off waivers from the Rays five days ago, set to make his Atlanta debut because, well, someone’s gotta pitch until the staff gets closer to full strength.
An international free agent signing out of Venezuela that only rated a $10,000 bonus at the time, Chirinos provided quality innings for the Rays in his first two seasons while working as a flexible starter/swingman/bulk option. In those two seasons, Chirinos ended up compiling 2.6 fWAR in 223 2⁄3 innings of work, with an 87/95/92 line (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-). Back then, he was sinker-slider-splitter with an occasional four-seamer, and any semblance of success he had was all about the slider and splitter doing work while he and the Rays prayed that the sinker, which doesn’t really have good natural sink, wouldn’t get demolished. (The slider, too, was more of a weird cutter thing than a true slider.)
But, Chirinos wouldn’t have a chance to build on his innings-eating, as he needed Tommy John Surgery and ended up pitching just 18 innings combined across the 2020-2022 seasons. He returned in earnest this year, but things have gone terribly: 99/134/126, -0.4 fWAR in 62 2⁄3 innings spanning both starts and bulk appearances, and an eventual DFA that got him scooped up by the Braves. (Earlier, before his DFA, he threw a scoreless frame with a walk and two strikeouts against the Braves.)
The reasons for his struggles this season are myriad. His sinker has lost two ticks (but now sinks more than before), which has lessened its velocity separation from his slider. The slider’s shape is currently a mess, and he’s consistently hung it right down the middle, which is why it has a .483 xwOBA-against thus far. The splitter still looks good both shape- and command-wise, but given that his whole pitching strategy was previously to use both non-sinker pitches to stymie hitters given how bad the sinker was, he’s now looking a lot more predictable than he did before his long layoff. Perhaps the Braves will seek to make him more of a splitter-primary guy, or something. We’ll find out. Though Chirinos has been around for a while, this will be his first-ever appearance against the Brewers.
As for the Braves, well, they’ll take aim at Adrian Houser, who bamboozled them on Saturday in what ended up being a 4-3 win for his team. Houser tied a career-high with ten punchouts, a feat he hadn’t managed since May 2021, and overall had what was arguably his best start of the year: 10/2 K/BB ratio, a homer allowed, and three runs charged in six innings of work. That mostly tells you that Houser hasn’t exactly had a good year to date, beguiling the Braves notwithstanding — 88/97/103 and 0.7 fWAR in 63 innings is pretty much in line with his career line, and evidence of innings-eating more than anything above that. The Braves should be a little bit more familiar with him now than they were last weekend, but they’ll still need to execute, get their barrels to fall somewhere that isn’t into a glove, and stop kicking the ball around the field defensively to have a chance in this one.
Atlanta Braves vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Friday, July 28, 2023
7:20 pm EDT
TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM
XM Radio: Ch. 181