Coming into this Pittsburgh series, it was understandable if you licked your metaphorical chops at the prospect of the magnificent one-two punch of Max Fried and Spencer Strider facing a now-moribund Pirates lineup. Unfortunately, the taste of said chops became quite bitter as the games played out — Strider pitched poorly but was destroyed by his defense; Fried pitched well but was doomed by a few infield bouncers and only lasted four innings. The Braves won the Fried game, as well as a game where Yonny Chirinos was left out way too long and was legitimately blasted both before and after his in-game expiration date, but they’ll end this four-game set with a matinee matchup where they send Bryce Elder to the hill...
...and given how the defense has upended Strider and Fried already in this series, that’s perhaps a worrying prospect.
Elder largely cruised through the first three months of the year, despite having to start the season in Triple-A. Through those first 15 starts, which earned him an All-Star selection, he had a stellar 54 ERA-, 87 FIP-, and 85 xFIP-, but was also the model of consistency in terms of not getting blown up. Across those 15 games, he only had four with an xFIP- above 100, five with an FIP- above 100, and four with an ERA- above 100. He had one start with as many walks as strikeouts, and allowed homers in just five of those 15 games.
But, things have fallen apart for Elder since. Over his last seven tries, the triple-slash is 134/137/132. All but one start has had an xFIP- above 100. All but two have had an FIP- above 100. He’s actually managed to avoid getting charged with a lot of runs in four of the seven starts, but has had his ledger so red with runs in the other three that the ERA- still is what it is. Four of the seven games have featured homers off him (remember, he had allowed homers in just five games prior), and has doubled his number of multihomer games (from two to four) in the process. Most problematically, his number of more-strikeout-than-walk games in this bad span has been two, and he’s gone from averaging five strikeouts a start down to just over two. Sam covered Elder’s struggles here, and while the reality is that a few straightforward fixes would help immensely (namely, slider location, which has gone from a consistent hitting of the low gloveside corner to essentially throwing it down the middle or pulling it too far down and away), it’s been quite a few starts and Elder hasn’t been able to make the adjustment yet.
So, you put this together with the fact that Elder is going to rely on balls in play more than say, Strider or Fried, who were nonetheless doomed by contact not turning into outs... and this looks grim. Of course, this is still the Pirates, and the beauty of baseball is that a turnaround can come at any moment, but let’s just collectively hope that even if the slider’s location is still bad, the balls find gloves today.
The Braves’ bats have continued their prolific run in this series, scoring 20 runs in the first three games of this series. Weirdly, it’s come with a surfeit of singles, and just a single homer, over the last two games of this series, but it’s been enough to make the games competitive despite the defensive (and Yonny Chirinos) woes. With the Pirates starting Bailey Falter today, there’s little reason to expect that the hit parade won’t continue — Falter has a 110/103/105 line in eight starts and a relief appearance this year.
The Pirates acquired Falter from the Phillies at the Trade Deadline in exchange for Rodolfo Castro, and his first start as a Buc was a 2/1 K/BB ratio effort where he was charged with a (non-homer) run in four innings. His starts with the Phillies were a mixed bag, and he’s been more of an innings-eating swingman option for his career so far. He doesn’t throw hard, averaging under 91 mph on his four-seamer, and is reminiscent of Ian Anderson in some ways because he has a low-spin, “deadened” fastball that gets good rise despite the spin not helping much if at all. He also has a good-shape curveball that he can’t command, as well as a cutter/slider that he commands well, along with a rarely-thrown but oddball changeup. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Braves are as flummoxed by his fastball as the league generally has been, or whether they will just ignore the fact that it’s weird and crush it.
Thursday, August 10, 2023
12:35 pm EDT
TV: Bankruptcy Sports South, MLB Network
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan
XM Radio: Online/Ch. 175