The schedulers at MLB cobbled together some early season matchups that never included the Nationals and Braves playing each other once in the first third of the season. Now these teams will face each other for the first time this season and only for two games in a mini-series which has two southern-California kids on the mound tonight. It is no surprise that Stephen Strasburg has been pitching well, but to see the left-handed Max Fried near the top of the ERA charts and Atlanta’s best pitcher is surprising. Fried was High School teammates with Lucas Giolito and both players are having breakout seasons. Fried has a 7-2 record and is tied for the most wins in the NL. The southpaw was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres who subsequently traded Fried in a six-player deal for Justin Upton.
The Braves started the season with Fried in the bullpen, and in his first start in early April he shutout the Cubs. Most of his starts have been pitch efficient. He has averaged 74 pitches per appearance, and he has only gone over 100 pitches in one appearance and has registered seven quality starts. He is generally getting his 6.0 innings completed and hands over the ball to his bullpen which is the way new-age way that pitching is getting done. For Atlanta’s retired manager Bobby Cox, that was his formula to get 6 innings out of the starter, and then turn the game over to a shutdown bullpen. But Atlanta’s bullpen this season is not what it was back in the days when they had the young Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and trusted closers like Billy Wagner and Craig Kimbrel.
If you look at the weaknesses of the 2019 Braves, it is their bullpen and the back of their starting rotation that are the issues and the reason why they are in second place. The Braves bullpen this season ranks as the 11th worst in the Majors with a 4.38 ERA and 6th worst with 9 blown saves. Of course, the Nationals are the worst in ERA and blown saves so the Braves are not even in the same stratosphere as the Nats horrific 7.12 ERA in the bullpen.
The Braves offense is tied with the Phillies in runs per game at 4.8, and they rank 6th in the NL in total runs scored and 4th in OPS at .772.
You can now see what the 2019 Braves are all about, and the Nats formula to winning is just what they did on Saturday to Caleb Smith is to attack the lefty early and get him out of the game and add-on runs against a weak bullpen while getting great pitching from your starter.
In housekeeping notes, the Nationals have not announced their starter for tomorrow, but most expect that the former Braves starter, Anibal Sanchez, will come off of the 10-day IL and make that start against Kevin Gausman.
Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves
Stadium: SunTrust Park, Atlanta, Georgia
1st Pitch: 7:20 pm EDT
TV: MASN; FOX Sports Southeast, MLB App out-of-market
Nats Radio: 106.7 The Fan and via the MLB app
Line-ups subject to change without notice: