After dropping five of their last six games following clinching the NL East for a sixth straight year, the Atlanta Braves will look to get back to their winning ways when they head to DC to face the Washington Nationals in a four game series. While the Nationals sit in last place in the NL East, the team has shown some fight this season and have exceeded most preseason expectations. The Nationals were projected at the start of the year to be something like the worst team in baseball, but have managed to be bottom-five instead, and seem likely to finish above 70 wins this year.
While the team is understandably bottom five in terms of both position players and pitching, there are some bright spots. Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams have been fairly productive, though the former’s success is driven by him outhitting his xwOBA en route to 2.6 fWAR in 634 PAs so far. The pitching has largely been nasty and would’ve looked worse had there not been a nightly horrorshow in Oakland, but MacKenzie Gore has a solid xFIP and Hunter Harvey has had one of those randomly-great relief seasons on a mostly-forgotten club.
The Braves have won four of the six games they’ve played against the Nationals so far, winning both the season-opening series in Washington as well as one in Atlanta in June. Their regular season wraps up with this four-game set, and then following a three-game set with the Cubs, they’ll host the Nationals for three more before enjoying their bye and heading into the NLDS.
Thursday, September 21, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Max Fried (13 GS, 71.2 IP, 25.3 K%, 5.9 BB%, 56.7 GB%, 2.64 ERA, 3.10 FIP)
Max Fried has been as brilliant as ever since coming back from a long stint on the IL this year: 67 ERA-, 73 FIP-, 72 xFIP-. Those are essentially identical to his stats prior to the injury, as well as his 2022 line, and so on. The highlight of his year was probably his seven scoreless with ten strikeouts and just two walks against the Dodgers earlier this month. Fried had a start skipped with a finger issue, but he should be good to take regular turns the rest of the way if the Braves deem it useful.
Fried started the season against the Nats and had his shortest start of the year: 3 1⁄3 innings with a 2/0 K/BB ratio in a win.
Jake Irvin (23 GS, 118.1 IP, 19.1 K%, 10 BB%, 42.2 GB%, 4.34 ERA, 5.29 FIP)
Called up in May, Jake Irvin’s ERA suggests he’s had a nicer season than the reality. A 99 ERA- seems fine, but a 120 FIP- and 116 xFIP- are more concerning. Without high strikeout totals, his outings tend to look good only when he keeps the ball in the park, given his double-digit walk rate. He seems like a command-over-stuff guy, especially given that his arsenal is pretty much a four-seamer, a curve, and a sinker, but he gets so few chases that the walks tend to pile up anyway. The curve does okay for itself despite a lack of drop, but when you’re throwing a 94-95 mph fastball about 70 percent of the time, life can be tough.
The Braves missed Irvin in June, but they’ll probably see him on a regular basis in the immediate future.
Friday, September 22, 7:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Charlie Morton (29 GS, 162.1 IP, 25.6 K%, 11.4 BB%, 43.3 GB%, 3.66 ERA, 3.85 FIP)
Charlie Morton’s roller coaster season continues, though his stats in aggregate are still just fine and then some: 83 ERA-, 89 FIP-, 97 xFIP-. After his bizarre seven-walk, zero-run outing against the Mets, he dazzled for three straight starts, and has fizzled since. In the three great starts, he had a combined K/BB ratio of 29/4. In the three since, it’s 17/12.
Morton continues to try to figure out how to get guys out without relying so heavily on his four-seamer, while throwing the curve over 40 percent of the time. When he was successful in that three-start stretch, roughly one out of every five pitches was a cutter. In the three more recent starts, he moved his mix slightly away from curves and cutters and towards changeups, which hasn’t paid dividends. It’s all still a work in progress as he tries to find something to keep batters off his four-seamer, which has a near-.400 xwOBA-against this season. The cutter looks worse than the changeup on paper, but has seemingly been a better setup pitch when he’s leaned on it more heavily.
Morton hasn’t pitched against the Nats yet this year, but did pretty well against them in two starts last year.
Patrick Corbin (30 GS, 171 IP, 16.2 K%, 7 BB%, 44.2 GB%, 5.00 ERA, 5.11 FIP)
It’s been a weird season for Patrick Corbin. Since his effectiveness collapsed in 2020, he’s been a routine xFIP underperformer, as a consequence of how often his meatballs get bombed into the stands. This season, the xFIP is even worse than before, but his FIP- is below 120, so he’s been able to push past 1 fWAR for the first time in three years. Almost no one in baseball gets hit harder than Corbin, but he’s doing something right now he hasn’t done all year: go back-to-back starts without allowing a homer. Only one of those two starts was any good, as he survived thanks to ball-in-play shenanigans his last time out against the Brewers, but still, that’s something resembling progress, or at least a nice blessing.
The Braves faced Corbin on Opening Day and chased him with four runs in three innings while he managed a 3/3 K/BB ratio; they missed him in June.
Saturday, September 23, 1:05 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast, MLB Network)
Kyle Wright (7 GS, 25.2 IP, 21.2 K%, 12.1 BB%, 57.1 GB%, 7.71 ERA, 5.83 FIP)
Kyle Wright’s been essentially rehabbing at the major league level, and you can tell, because his results have been pretty ugly. He’s still figuring it out — after a 3/2 K/BB ratio and a BABIP-fueled thrashing by the Phillies in Philadelphia, he then allowed three homers with a 5/4 K/BB ratio against them in Atlanta. His ability to move the ball to both sides of the plate seems somewhat limited, and while his continuously-sped-up curveball is still doing a good job, way too many sinkers are just fading over the heart of the plate. He’ll probably figure it out eventually, but the question for right now is whether he does so in a way that makes him useful to the Braves in the postseason.
Joan Adon (8 GS, 43 IP, 19.3 K%, 9.1 BB%, 36 GB%, 6.28 ERA, 5.07 FIP)
Joan Adon comes into this game with a 143 ERA-, 114 FIP-, and 115 xFIP- over eight starts and two relief appearances. He was given a rotation tryout in August and nailed it with his best start of the year (7/0 K/BB ratio in six innings) but has largely been lit up since. It’s not hard to see why: none of his pitches have an agreeable shape, and there’s not much command of them, either. Still, the changeup has flustered hitters, and he gets the four-seamer up enough to where it can get whiffs and pop-ups. Trying to focus on those two pitches might leave him vulnerable to whatever he’s gaining by essentially pitching like a junkballer right now, though.
Adon’s been around for parts of three seasons now, but this will be his first time facing the Braves.
Sunday, September 24, 1:35 p.m. ET (Bally Sports Southeast)
Spencer Strider (30 GS, 176 IP, 37.9 K%, 7.6 BB%, 33.5 GB%, 3.73 ERA, 2.81 FIP)
Since getting lit up against the Cardinals, Spencer Strider has put together back-to-back seven inning gems. In his last start, he only made one mistake, which Bryce Harper put in the seats for a three-run homer. Those were the only runs he allowed, going seven innings and striking out 11. In that start, and a 7-inning one-run display the turn prior, Strider continued his dominance over the Phillies.
Strider comes into this game barely trailing Zack Wheeler for the fWAR lead among all starters in 2023 (5.4 to 5.3). He has both the FIP- and xFIP- lead (65 and 66, respectively), but some shaky defense behind him, along with the sequencing shenanigans, has ballooned his ERA up to an 84 ERA-.
Strider faced the Nats in the second game of the year and was his usual self, with a 9/3 K/BB ratio over six scoreless innings.
The Nationals starter for Sunday has yet to be announced. It would be Jackson Rutledge’s turn in the rotation, but he’s been shelled in both of his big league starts to date, so the Nationals might pivot to something else.