SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Braves came into the season with high expectations to be one of the best teams in the National League, but they’ve been more mediocre than good in this first portion of the season.
Up, a bit. It kind of feels like cheating a bit to say any team is trending in the right direction coming off a series in which they took on the Pirates, but technically that is where they are. Atlanta just finished off a four-game set at home against Pittsburgh and took the final three. Overall they’ve won four of their last five.
5/25: Garrett Richards vs. Charlie Morton, 7:10 PM ET
So much of the early-season success from the Red Sox came from their rotation, with Richards being the only part of the fivesome that struggled in any significant way for most of April. More recently, other starters have begun to falter, but it’s been Richards who is now leading the group. The righty has looked much more like what the most optimistic among us envisioned when he first joined the team, as he’s pitched to a 2.27 ERA over his last five starts to go with 31 strikeouts in 31 2⁄3 innings with only nine walks. It’s that control and command that is key, and he’ll need to be on his A-game against an underachieving but still quite talented Braves lineup.
Morton is a familiar face as he spent the last two seasons with the Rays, including 2019 when he finished third in Cy Young voting. The veteran righty totally turned his career around toward the end of last decade with the Astros, and it looked like he might retire this past winter. Instead, he decided to stay down south and sign on with Atlanta, where things have been a mixed bag this year. His strikeouts are still up above 10 per nine innings, but his walks are a bit up as well and he’s allowing more homers than ever before. That said, some of his 4.60 ERA sure looks fluky just taking a quick look at his underlying numbers, and he is coming off a start in which he struck out eight and walked none while allowing one run over six innings to the Mets. Morton will offer a nasty curveball that leads his repertoire along with a pair of mid-90s fastballs and a cutter.
5/26: Nick Pivetta vs. Drew Smyly, 7:10 PM ET
Pivetta has been such a revelation for the Red Sox this year, and we’re now at the point where the expectation isn’t just to keep the team in the game, but to be straight-up good every time out. That’s an important distinction, and is the marking of a mid-rotation starter rather than a back-end one. Whether or not Pivetta has really earned that is up for debate, and he will get a chance against a familiar NL East foe here to prove it. Last time out was a very Philadelphia Pivetta outing in which he allowed five runs (four earned) over five innings, but struck out eight while walking just two. Before the season, we’d take those kinds of outings from him most days. Now, it seems like a disappointment, which I think marks how far he’s come this year.
It was somewhat hidden because he was on a relatively bad team in a pandemic season that people tuned out a bit, but Smyly had a bit of a breakout in 2020 with the Giants. He had broken out earlier in his career with the Rays and Tigers, but injuries had kind of put his career off track. His strikeouts were way up in 2020, though, and he did a better job of keeping the ball in the yard. Things haven’t gone as swimmingly in the homer department this year, though, as his 11 homers allowed lead the league, which has led to an ERA over 5.00. That said, he’s been much better in May, pitching to a 2.00 ERA in three starts with two balls leaving the yard. Look for the Red Sox to hunt mistakes, particularly early in counts before he can start to go for strikeouts with his secondaries. The southpaw has been mainly a two-pitch pitcher this year with a low-90s fastball and a curveball, plus the occasional cutter.
Pablo Sandoval is not really considered a friend by many in Boston, but he is of course an iconic player from last decade for the disappointment he was. Since leaving, he’s hung on as a high-energy bench player, providing solid depth for the Giants and now the Braves.
Notable Position Players
Ronald Acuña Jr. has surpassed Nolan Arenado as my favorite non-Red Sox player in the game, and he is just unbelievable in every facet. He’s athletic and flashes the leather defensively while putting pressure on defenses with his baserunning. And then at the plate he’s one of the best in the game with elite power and elite plate discipline.
Freddie Freeman is also one of the best hitters in the game and forms perhaps the best one-two punch in baseball with Acuña. Freeman does it all with the bat, and he does it all so well that it’s hard for any one of his skills to really shine through the most. Coming into this season he’s had eight straight seasons with a wRC+ of at least 130, which is just wild.
Marcell Ozuna ended up going back to the Braves this winter in free agency after being courted by a few other clubs, including the Red Sox. He’s been a disappointment so far, though, particularly in the power department. As we saw last year, Fenway could be the place to change that for him.
Ozzie Albies has had some bad luck on batted balls, but he’s still been safely better than average this year thanks to a high contact rate and bigger power than you’d expect from his stature.
Austin Riley is a boom or bust power hitter in the middle of this lineup who has been red-hot recently.
Dansby Swanson is another streaky hitter who will strike out a bunch but is coming into this series swinging a hot bat.
William Contreras is a recent call up and a top prospect in the Braves organization, and he’s kept his head above water thus far thanks to big power.
Guillermo Heredia has been a surprise in this lineup so far, and while he’s gotten some luck on batted balls he’s also put up strong underlying numbers on top of that.
Will Smith has led what has been a shaky Braves bullpen, and while it seems he’s been a bit unlucky based on his peripherals his control has also been a bit off.
Chris Martin has been hurt for most of the season, but he just recently returned to bolster this group. He’s not missing many bats, but his command is good enough that he can still get results.
A.J. Minter is a power lefty and is similar to Darwinzon Hernandez in that they both can miss a ton of bats, but they can also suffer lapses of control.
Mike Soroka missed most of last season with an Achilles issue, and it is still bothering him to the point where it looks like he’ll miss all of this season as well.
Travis d’Arnaud tore a ligament in his thumb early this month and could miss the rest of the season because of it.
Cristian Pache tweaked a hamstring in the middle of May and while he’ll miss this series it doesn’t appear it’s a long-term concern.
Huascar Ynoa punched the bench in the dugout after a poor outing and broke his hand, which will keep him out for a couple of months.
Touki Toussaint has been dealing with a shoulder issue since camp in March and hasn’t been able to throw yet.
Alex Jackson is currently rehabbing and trying to get himself back into the Braves catching mix.
It should be a good couple of days in Boston for these two clubs. There is a very slight chance of rain being a nuisance on Wednesday, but I doubt it will be bad enough to cause real havoc, if it even shows up at all.