The Braves are rolling, putting a historic month in the rearview mirror and then coming into July with two more wins, sweeping away the Marlins at home. On Monday night, they’ll be on the road in Cleveland, looking to extend their third eight-game winning streak of the year to a season-best nine games. With the Rays losing a one-run game in Seattle on Sunday, the Braves have finally arrived at their preseason forecast: MLB’s best record. The challenge for them now will be to keep it going, but it’s one they should rise to meet, given how little let-up they’ve shown over the last five weeks or so.
Another guy who just has to keep it going: tonight’s scheduled starter, Bryce Elder. The 24-year-old right-hander, who didn’t even make the team out of Spring Training, grabbed his first All-Star selection on Sunday night, thanks to a 55 ERA-, 88 FIP-, and 90 xFIP- across 16 starts spanning 96 innings of work. Over the course of the season, Elder has gone from “great but there’s no way he keeps it going” to “yeah see the armor is rusting a bit” to “huh, I guess this a thing now.” Check it out.
If there are any concerns about Elder continuing to baffle opposing offenses, they keep being dashed aground the rocks of him pulling good starts out of his hat. He struggled against the Nationals on June 11 (1/1 K/BB ratio), and had a 4/4 K/BB ratio in his most recent start against the Twins, but those two outings were separated by two good ones, including a seven-inning domination of the Phillies. That’s kind of how it’s gone for Elder, who has mixed in a subpar outing after a bunch of good ones, but then gotten right back to mowing down hitters.
He’s done it much of the same way all season, with a sinker-slider combo that continues to baffle hitters despite a preponderance of video and data now being available. The sinker is thrown armside and fades in that direction, though usually not as much as hitters expect it to; the slider hits the low, gloveside edge fairly often and has bizarrely deadened, almost screwball-esque motion. Neither pitch does quite what it seems like it should, which helps Elder thrive despite a lack of velocity, whiffs, and strikeouts. There’s also a four-seamer (which he might be better off not throwing) and a changeup (which is not commanded nearly as well as his sinker/slider bread and butter) in the mix.
Not much has been able to even serve as a speed bump to the Atlanta attack recently, and on Monday night, that job will fall to Gavin Williams, who will be making his third career start. Williams was a first-round draftee (23rd overall) in 2021, and kind of feels like the generic good pitching prospect at this point: he has a carrying fastball at 96, a downward tilt slider, and a big drooping curveball. There’s also a changeup, but the feel for it doesn’t quite appear to be there yet, and it’s not thrown nearly as often as any of the other pitches. For whatever reason, Williams has generated a truckload of weak fly balls through two starts; even his slider, which is often placed right on the low gloveside corner, has been skied a bunch. You can already see an above-average pitcher in Williams’ shell, as throwing his four-seamer a bit higher and not missing armside with his curve a bunch should give him way more whiffs and a more sustainable profile.
As it is, though, Williams will carry a 67/92/113 line into this game. That line is driven by a poor debut against the Athletics, and then a much more dominant outing against the Royals, so there’s not much of a track record to try to infer things from.
Atlanta Braves @ Cleveland Guardians
Monday, July 3, 2023
7:10 pm EDT
TV: Bankruptcy Sports South
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online/Ch. 176