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It’s tune-up time for Elder, Braves as they start series in Miami

Bryce Elder will look to string together two good starts against bad offenses.

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

In 2022, the Braves swept the Mets to put themselves on the cusp of a division title... and then had to go play another series in Miami to sew it up, with Bryce Elder drawing the start in the first game of that series.

In 2023, the Braves took three of four from the Phillies to clinch a sixth-straight division title... and are now going to play a series in Miami, with only the #1 seed and MLB’s best record to chase down at this point. (That and a smattering of personal and team milestones!) Since time is a flat circle, you guessed it: Bryce Elder is going to start the next game after the big series, again.

It’s not clear whether the Braves will deploy a hangover lineup in this game, given that they had an off-day to clear their heads and bloodstreams, but whether they do or not, Elder’s outing is going to be something to watch. In his last start against the Pirates, Elder dazzled, with a 9/1 K/BB ratio and just a two-run homer allowed in garbage time. That was a big deal for the right-hander, because he hadn’t had a start with an FIP and xFIP below 4.50 in his past 12 starts. Sure, it came against a weak lineup, but the Marlins also have a weak lineup, as do many of the teams that bedeviled Elder while he struggled. So, the question has shifted from, “Can Elder regain what he lost?” to “Can Elder keep it going for two straight starts?” And that’s what we’re going to find out tonight.

On the season, Elder has a fine 76 ERA-, 97 FIP-, and 100 xFIP-, with a more than solid 2.1 fWAR in 162 13 innings. Still, the more he can show the slider location and consistency of command that led to his earlier success here, the more likely it is that he gets to see some key innings in the playoffs.

The Marlins are actually still in it, too. They’re half a game behind the Giants and Diamondbacks, who are tied for the third Wild Card spot. The Marlins have probably the toughest remaining schedule out of all of the fringy NL contenders, and arguably have the weakest roster as well, so it’s an uphill climb for them for sure, but anything can happen in a couple of weeks. Their playoff odds are around 19 percent right now, and the Braves can either seriously damage them, or enhance them, depending on what happens this weekend.

What bodes less well for Miami, though, is that they’re starting Johnny Cueto in this series opener, and Cueto’s season has been rough. The veteran has -0.5 fWAR across eight starts and a relief appearance, with a ghastly 141 ERA-, 154 FIP-, and 116 xFIP-. It’s not like this is a bloated number due to one or two blow-ups, either: Cueto has been essentially destroyed every time he’s taken the mound, but one. If you leave out that one start where he dominated the Rockies, then:

  • He’s had just one appearance, a three-inning relief stint, where he didn’t allow a homer.
  • That relief appearance was his only outing with an FIP below 5.00.
  • He’s had one outing with an xFIP below 4.50, and just three (of eight) with an xFIP below 5.00.
  • Aside from that relief appearance, which was scoreless, he’s always allowed at least three runs.

Cueto has faced the Braves a bunch of times in his long career, but this will be his first time doing so since 2019, when the Braves knocked him around in four innings while he was a member of the Giants. Elder, meanwhile, will be making the seventh of his 38 total career starts (18 percent) against the Marlins. He’s had an assortment of good starts and clunkers against them, but it totals to a 3.91 FIP and 3.60 xFIP in 35 innings of work, which is better than his career marks in the low 4.00s.

Game Info

Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins

Friday, September 15, 2023

6:40 pm EDT

loanDepot park, Miami, FL

TV: Bankruptcy Sports Southeast, MLB Network

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan

XM Radio: Online, Ch. 176

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