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Braves head to Pittsburgh for four-game series against Pirates

Atlanta’s road trip rolls on with a four-game series in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Diego Padres Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves will continue their road trip Monday when they will begin a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Atlanta began the trip by dropping two of three in Chicago to the Cubs.

The Braves are 70-39 on the season and still enjoy a double-digit lead in the NL East standings despite the division lead shrinking in back-to-back games. Still, there are some things that Atlanta needs to clean up. They were hampered by some sloppy baserunning in the two losses and didn’t get enough homers or other big hits to over take the Cubs in either game. Atlanta surrendered eight walks in Sunday’s loss and pitchers Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton both failed to get past the fifth inning while struggling in very different ways.

There were some bright spots as well. Ronald Acuña Jr. had eight hits in the series and picked up two more stolen bases giving him an MLB-leading 53 for the season. Matt Olson homered twice in the series and drove in six runs. Olson now has 39 home runs for the season, which a career high set back in 2021 with Oakland. He leads the majors with 97 RBI and has driven in at least one run in nine straight games.

The Pirates got off to a great start this season and were 20-9 at the end of April. They have gone south since then and will enter Monday’s series with a 50-61 record. Pittsburgh currently ranks 24th in position player fWAR and 23rd in pitching fWAR, which tells you much of what you need to know. The Pirates were active at the Trade Deadline, sending away Rich Hill, Ji-Man Choi, Rodolfo Castro, Carlos Santana, Robert Stephenson, and Austin Hedges. They did elect to hang on to closer David Bednar, who is under team control through the 2026 season.

Though the Pirates have definitely hit the skids, they have actually won or tied their last four series. Their season was largely undone by a ten-game losing streak in June that kicked them from a division contender to fourth place, and a five-game losing streak out of the All-Star Break gates that essentially shut the door on any hope of a competitive 2023 in Pittsburgh. To make things even worse, the Pirates have had the league’s second-worst offensive production over the last 30 days, so they’ve gone from fun to flat over the summer.

Still, they’ve had a decent time playing spoiler. Most recently, they split a four-game set against the Brewers on the road, and won two of three against the Phillies to close out July. They’ve also taken five of six from the Padres over the last few weeks and have gone 5-2 against the Reds on the year so far.

Monday, August 7, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Spencer Strider (22 GS, 129.2 IP, 39.3 K%, 7.2 BB%, 3.61 ERA, 2.91 FIP)

Spencer Strider will get the start for Atlanta in Monday’s series opener. Strider became the fastest pitcher ever to reach 200 strikeouts in his last start, where he allowed one run and struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings against Angels. Strider has logged at least six innings in each of his last eight starts. He is currently tied for Zac Gallen for third in MLB among starters with 3.7 fWAR. No starter with more than 31 innings pitched has a lower xFIP- than Strider’s 62.

Osvaldo Bido (9 G, 7 GS, 33.0 IP, 19.9 K%, 9.0 BB%, 5.18 ERA, 4.00 FIP)

Right-hander Osvaldo Bido will make his eighth start of the season when he takes the mound against Atlanta in Monday’s opener. It won’t be classified as a bullpen game, but Bido has essentially been getting games off the ground for the Pirates. After logging 5 2/3 innings back on June 24, Bido has gone six straight appearances without making it past the fourth inning. He allowed three hits and four runs over three innings in his last start against the Tigers. While Bido has a nice 91 FIP-, his xFIP- is over 110. He’s a slider-first relief guy that pitches to contact. The Pirates have a pretty generic bullpen overall, even with Bednar’s contributions, and the Braves will probably see a lot of those arms in this game.

Tuesday, August 8, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Yonny Chirinos (17 G, 6 GS, 71.1 IP, 13.0 K%, 7.3 BB%, 4.42 ERA, 5.09 FIP)

Yonny Chirinos will make his third start since joining Atlanta in Tuesday’s matchup. Chirinos didn’t escape the fourth inning in his Braves debut, allowing six hits and four runs over 3 2/3 innings, though he was really done in by some poor defensive play. He fared better in his second start, allowing six hits and three runs over five innings against the Angels. Two of those runs scored after he left the game in the sixth inning. With Max Fried back, Chirinos is among a small group of pitchers that are vying to lock down the fifth spot in Atlanta’s rotation for the remainder of the season.

Mitch Keller (23 GS, 138.2 IP, 25.4 K%, 7.3 BB%, 4.35 ERA, 3.90 FIP)

Mitch Keller will start opposite of Chirinos on Tuesday and will be looking to get back on track. Keller has taken another step forward this season for Pittsburgh, but has struggled of late. He was tagged for nine hits and eight runs over five innings in his last start against the Brewers. That was the second time in his last four games that he has been tagged for eight runs. Dating back to July 18, Keller has allowed 34 hits and 24 runs over his last 21 2/3 innings.

Keller is having a nice season (2.1 fWAR) overall, but is prone to the occasional blowup. Seven of the 18 homers he’s allowed this season have come in his last five starts. While earlier in the season he would string together a bunch of good outings in between outings, it’s been about a month since he’s had back-to-back strong starts.

Wednesday, August 9, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Max Fried (6 GS, 32.0 IP, 26.8 K%, 4.9 BB%, 1.69 ERA, 2.58 FIP)

Max Fried will make his second start since returning from the Injured List in Wednesday’s game. Fried made his much-anticipated return from the shelf last Friday in Chicago and looked dominant, tossing six scoreless innings to go along with eight strikeouts. Fried needed just 72 pitches to navigate the six-inning outing and left after the Braves staked him to a big lead.

Quinn Priester (4 GS, 19.2 IP, 17.0 K%, 14.9 BB%, 8.69 ERA, 7.23 FIP)

Atlanta will get its first look at young right-hander Quinn Priester on Wednesday. Priester is Pittsburgh’s fifth-best prospect per Baseball America and will be making the fifth start of his career. It has been a tough start for Priester, who has allowed 19 runs, 14 walks, and five homers over his first 19 23 innings.

Priester’s arsenal is such that you can see why the Pirates promoted him: he has a five-pitch mix with decent sink and good break on his slider, along with a usable changeup and curve. Everything has some degree of seam-shifted wake, too. But his command has been so bad that there’s been no reason to swing at anything, and the stuff he tries to force over the plate gets crushed because his fastball is only in the 92-93 range.

Thursday, August 10, 12:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)

Bryce Elder (22 GS, 126.0 IP, 17.6 K%, 7.6 BB%, 3.43 ERA, 4.35 FIP)

Bryce Elder will look to bounce back from a rough outing last time out when he gets the start in Thursday’s series finale. Elder fell in an early hole and wasn’t sharp in his last start where he allowed seven hits and seven runs over 4 1/3 innings. Two of those runs were unearned as part of a five-run first inning, but he allowed two home runs for the first time since July 9.

A lot of Elder’s problems can be traced to an evaporation of whiffs in general, but especially on his slider. If hitters have caught on to the challenges his seam-shifted wake-full arsenal used to pose, he’s going to have to figure out some other way to get in favorable counts and put guys away.

Bailey Falter (9 G, 8 GS, 44.1 IP, 15.6 K%, 4.7 BB%, 4.87 ERA, 4.58 FIP)

Left-hander Bailey Falter will make his second start for the Pirates in Thursday’s finale. Falter came over from the Phillies in a trade for infielder Rodolfo Castro at the Deadline. He allowed six hits and one run over four innings in his debut against the Brewers. Falter has faced the Braves twice in his career and has allowed 14 hits and seven runs in just 8 1/3 innings.

Falter’s career to date has been emblematic of a Quad-A swingman, with league average-y pitching across a short-stint starter/long relief role. He’s really a low-walk soft tosser, but there’s some interesting stuff about his slider (bad shape, great command, highly effective so far) to keep an eye on.

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