The Braves will begin a seven-game road trip with a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.
Up next for the Atlanta Braves is a seven-game road trip that starts with a three-game series in Phoenix. Atlanta just completed a 4-3 homestand by taking two of three from the Miami Marlins. They will enter play Monday with a 23-25 record and are 9-11 away from Truist Park this season.
Atlanta’s offense finally showed some signs of life during the homestand, scoring 31 runs over the seven games. They capped it off by banging out nine extra-base hits, including three home runs, in Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Marlins. Dansby Swanson had 13 hits on the homestand while Austin Riley had 11. Riley and Marcell Ozuna hit back-to-back homers in the first inning of Sunday’s win; Riley now has three homers in his last five games.
On the season, the Diamondbacks have paired one of the league’s worst offenses (91 wRC+, .302 wOBA, .317 xwOBA) with one of the league’s best defenses, which has helped them stay relatively afloat despite one of the league’s worst pitching staffs (28th in fWAR in MLB, though 17th in RA9-WAR on the back of the aforementioned great defense). While Zac Gallen (whom the Braves will face on Monday) and Merrill Kelly have been very good in the rotation and the duo of Joe Mantiply and Kyle Nelson have provided highly effectively relief, pretty much the entire rest of the pitching staff has been mediocre to horrendous — of the 25 hurlers Arizona has used this year, 12 have -0.1 fWAR or worse, and another five are at 0.0 through Saturday’s game.
On the position player end, the Diamondbacks have one of MLB’s most productive players so far in Daulton Varsho — an extremely rare CF/C combination and another guy with breakout potential in 27-year-old Josh Rojas, who is playing third base this year. Veterans Christian Walker (.400+ xwOBA) and David Peralta have also provided good production thus far, but things drop off notably afterwards. Ketel Marte is scuffling defensively at second base as well as at the plate. Carson Kelly has been horrendous since his return from injury; nearly 20 percent of the team’s PAs have gone to players with a wRC+ below 70 thus far (by comparison, the Braves are at 24 percent, so they certainly know how it feels).
Monday, May 30, 8:10 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Spencer Strider (11 G, 24.1 IP, 38.9 K%, 11.6 BB%, 2.22 ERA, 1.46 FIP)
The biggest news heading into the road trip is that rookie right-hander Spencer Strider will make his first start of the season in Monday’s series opener in Arizona. Strider has been excellent thus far, making 11 relief appearances while posting a 2.22 ERA and a 1.46 FIP. He has struck out 37 hitters and walked 11 in 24 1/3 innings. He’s a huge reason why the Braves’ bullpen has been as valuable as it has; Strider’s 0.7 relief fWAR is tied for seventh in MLB with guys like Devin Williams and Kenley Jansen, which is made even more impressive by the fact that reliever fWAR is weighted by leverage, and Strider has worked garbage time in over half of his appearances to date.
“We haven’t really got anything out of that spot. Tomorrow he’s ready to go and it will give Charlie an extra day in this 17-game run,” Brian Snitker said of the decision to go with Strider. “Hopefully, he can cover some innings. He’s been throwing the ball well. Somebody’s gotta make that start and he’s throwing good and he’s done it before. It’s something that gives us a good chance to win when he’s out here.”
The biggest question with Strider is how far he can reasonably be expected to go in the game. He threw 69 pitches in a four-inning appearance against Milwaukee back on May 6. He didn’t top 26 pitches in any of his next four appearances before throwing 46 in 2 2/3 innings on May 25 against Philadelphia.
“We’ll see how it goes. Obviously, he’s not going to go seven innings or anything like that,” Snitker said. “We’ll just tell him to just get us off the ground here and see. He could go a while, but we’ll just see how it goes. Take it inning by inning, stressful innings, all that stuff and use common sense.”
Zac Gallen (8 GS, 44.2 IP, 24.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 2.22 ERA, 2.81 FIP)
Atlanta’s offense will face another tough task in Monday’s opener when they match up against Diamondbacks’ right-hander Zac Gallen. Gallen got off to a very strong start, but is coming off of his worst outing of the season where he allowed seven hits and six runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Royals. That was the first time that Gallen had allowed more than two earned runs in any start this season. The Braves were one-hit by Gallen in a seven-inning doubleheader in April 2021, and will hope to avoid that fate again, but getting a lot of traction might be difficult. Gallen is currently a top-30 arm in MLB by fWAR (1.2), has allowed just two homers all season, and has a 43/10 K/BB ratio on the year. The xwOBA-against on all four of his primary pitches is under .300 so far this season, and the Braves are probably going to have find a way to do more damage than others have on his four-seamer (which he throws around 50 percent of the time) to get anywhere in this game.
Tuesday, May 31, 9:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Charlie Morton (9 GS, 44.1 IP, 20.3 K%, 9.9 BB%, 5.28 ERA, 4.52 FIP)
By starting Strider on Monday, the Braves will allow Charlie Morton an extra day of rest. Morton could use it as his up and down season continued in his last start, as he failed to get out of the fifth while allowing nine hits and four runs in just 4 1/3 innings. Morton just hasn’t been as sharp as what we saw from him in 2021 and he has struggled at times to generate swing and misses. Morton has allowed three runs or more in six of his nine starts this season.
After back-to-back starts with a combined 14/2 K/BB ratio against the Padres and Marlins, there was a thought that Morton had righted the ship from his earlier struggles (23/17 K/BB ratio, ghastly). His start against the Phillies wasn’t awful or a complete departure (4/1 K/BB ratio), but he clearly struggled to get anything going against hitters as the game dragged on and was, as has been common for Atlanta starters all season, left out to torch his own line — he retired just two of the five batters he faced the third time through, and two of his four runs allowed came in that sequence.
Humberto Castellanos (10 G, 8 GS, 39.2 IP, 15.7 K%, 5.8 BB%, 5.22 ERA, 4.74 FIP)
The Diamondbacks will go with right-hander Humberto Castellanos in the second game on Tuesday. Castellanos began the season in Arizona’s bullpen, but moved into the rotation after just two appearances. He allowed three runs or less in each of his first four May starts before allowing 10 hits and six runs in just four innings in his last outing against the Dodgers. Overall, Castellanos has basically been your generic replacement-level fifth starter/swingman through 96 career major league innings — he pitches to contact and allows a ton of homers, and is dependent on his defense to keep the bases clear so the homers don’t completely torch the game. His fastballs have extreme sink, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in this game given how badly the Braves have struggled with righty sinkers so far in 2022.
Wednesday, June 1, 3:40 p.m. ET (Bally Sports South)
Kyle Wright (9 GS, 53.2 IP, 28.4 K%, 8.4 BB%, 2.68 ERA, 2.83 FIP)
While the Braves have been searching for answers for the final spot in their rotation, the emergence of Kyle Wright has been one of the best stories of the young season. Wright has shown the kind of poise that was missing in previous seasons, not to mention a more effective and well-informed pitch mix. He allowed three hits, two walks and three runs in 6 2/3 innings in his last start. Wright has allowed three earned runs or less in eight of his nine starts this season, and is tied for 14th in MLB with 1.3 fWAR.
Madison Bumgarner (10 GS, 48.1 IP, 15.6 K%, 8.0 BB%, 3.35 ERA, 5.28 FIP)
Veteran left-hander Madison Bumgarner will get the start for Arizona in the finale on Wednesday. The Braves are no stranger to Bumgarner who hurled a seven-inning perfect game against them in April of last season. He faced Atlanta again in September where he surrendered five hits and three runs in five innings. Bumgarner has a 3.35 ERA in 10 starts, but his 5.28 FIP suggests that he has been more than a bit fortunate. After allowing just three earned runs through four starts in April (15/11 K/BB ratio), Bumgarner has allowed 12 in his last 18 innings (11/4 K/BB ratio) as things have evened out for him. If the Braves don’t get to Bumgarner, it’ll be a bummer, given that he will come into this game with negative fWAR, and the Braves have hit lefties well, even results-wise, this year.