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Atlanta’s rotation is stuck in the wilderness at the moment

The Braves have been spinning their wheels since the All-Star break and you don’t have to look far to find the main reason why they’ve been stuck in neutral as of late.

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

When I talked to y’all last week about the Atlanta Braves and their offense that is currently on track to collectively have the best single season in franchise history, not much has changed in that regard. The Braves are still scoring plenty of runs and it’s very rare to see them have a quiet night at the plate. That’s a good thing, as I’ve especially been gleefully enjoying this power surge that Matt Olson is currently on.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all sunshine and flowers for the Braves recently. They’ve been spinning their wheels since the All-Star break, as they suddenly find themselves with a 10-11 record since the unofficial start of the second half of the season. You don’t have to look hard to find the main reason why the Braves have been in a bit of a rut since coming back from the break: The starting pitching has been having a rough go of it. The Braves have found themselves in their fair share of slugfests and while it’s been entertaining to watch this team basically say “challenge accepted” when it comes to simply out-swinging their opponents, it’s been starting to get a little annoying to see the Braves getting forced to slug it out due to some rough pitching.

Dating back to July 14 and going into last night’s action, the Braves as a pitching staff have an ERA of 4.89, a FIP of 4.32, an ERA- of 110 and a FIP- of 100. That’s kind of rough but it gets even rougher when you pare it down to the starters — the rotation has an ERA of 5.31, a FIP of 4.46 ERA- of 114 and a FIP- of 104. Comparatively speaking, the bullpen is chugging along with an ERA of 4.27, a FIP of 4.12 which translated to an ERA- and FIP- of 96. That number is very likely going to take a hit after what happened to Spencer Strider last night, where the Pirates ran him from the game in the third inning after tagging him for six runs.

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Yeah, we needed to talk about things after what happened last night
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Braves have had nine different pitchers start since July 14 and it’s been a rough ride for everybody involved except for Max Fried, who is returning just in the nick of time. His start on this past Friday was a sight for sore eyes, as he made the most of his pitch limit and completely shut down the Cubs while he was on the mound. I’m already counting the days until his next start because his counterparts haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire in recent days.

This most recent turn through the rotation for the three pitchers that the Braves have been relying on the most this season ended up being nasty (in a bad way) for all three. Charlie Morton gave up five runs over 4.1 innings against the Cubs, which is the most he’s given up since conceding six runs over five innings against the Dodgers back in May. Bryce Elder followed up a strong bounce-back performance against the Brewers by falling back down against those same Cubs and getting lit up for five runs over 4.1 innings. Then Spencer Strider took on a Pirates lineup that he seemed more-than-capable of handling and proceeded to have a nightmare.

That’s not to mention the revolving door that has been the fourth-and-fifth spots for Atlanta’s rotation basically being a black hole of production since the All-Star break. Yonny Chirinos has been solid in his two starts since the break but other than that, it’s been rough to watch! Allan Winans, Mike Soroka, Bryce Elder, Kolby Allard and A.J. Smith-Shawver have combined for -0.1 fWAR in production since the break. For comparison’s sake, Max Fried came back from the IL and racked nearly half-a-win on his own in the one start he made. Getting Max Fried back is going to be huge going forward since it appears that Atlanta’s starters have hit a bit of a wall at this point in the season.

Minnesota Twins v Atlanta Braves
Thank goodness he’s back.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it has to be the fact that it appears that while Atlanta’s starters may be in a tough situation at the moment, luck appears to be playing a factor in it. The rotation has an xFIP- of 93 since July 14, which is the ninth-best mark in all of baseball and far lower than what their aforementioned ERA- and FIP- numbers have been since the break. The starters have also been dealing with a BABIP of .320, which is the fourth-highest in baseball since July 14 and the second-highest in the National League. Their recent BABIP is 15 points higher than their season average heading into last night’s game and their xFIP- since July 14 is more in line with their season-long ERA- (91) and FIP- (98) have looked like up to this point.

That seems to indicate that while things aren’t looking great for Atlanta’s starters at the moment, this might just be a good ol’ fashioned rough patch for the rotation. If that’s the case then it’s totally fine to be annoyed with what’s going on right now while being mindful of the fact that these guys are likely going to right the ship eventually. Max Fried’s return alone should provide a massive boost to the rotation. Bad starts for Spencer Strider are aberrations rather than the norm. Charlie Morton has the veteran nous to shake off his woes and should be fine sooner rather than later. Bryce Elder is definitely in the wilderness but he did have a pair of starts that seemed to suggest that he’s still got plenty left to give in the tank going forward this season.

If these guys can get things turned around, then it’s very easy to envision the Braves finishing the season on a very high note as they enter the postseason. Despite their struggles on the mound, the offense is still blasting balls around the ballpark on a regular basis and it hasn’t really hurt them in the standings too much as they’re still in possession of a very comfortable lead in the division and the best record in baseball as a whole. This team has built up enough credit on the field to where they can afford to have a blip like this and as long as it’s just a blip, then the Braves should be A-OK and their pitching staff should turn things around sooner rather than later.

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