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Red Sox at Braves series preview

The Sox head down south for a quick two-game set.

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Milwaukee Brewers v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

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The opponent in one sentence

The defending champs are off to a bit of a slow start with their record still sitting under .500, but they just got their best player back and still sit in second place in the NL East.

Record

14-16

Trend

Up recently. The Braves had been playing some pretty poor baseball prior to this past weekend, having lost each of their previous two series including one to the Rangers, but they bounced back against the Brewers, taking two of three. Overall, they’ve won three of their last four.

Pitching Matchups

5/10: Garrett Whitlock vs. Kyle Wright, 7:20 PM ET (TBS for out-of-market)

For now at least, Whitlock will be sticking in the rotation despite all of the late-inning questions on this roster. While there is a case to move him, it certainly has nothing to do with his performance in this role as he has excelled, albeit while still working up his workload and pitching relatively short outings. In his three starts, though, he has combined for 12 total innings, allowing just two earned runs (1.50 ERA), striking out 18 and only walking two. This will be a big test against a talented Braves lineup to be sure, but it’s not as though he’s been pitching against a cupcake schedule, so far facing the Rays, Blue Jays, and Angels. Until he shows otherwise, I expect nothing less than outstanding work from Whitlock no matter what role he’s pitching or who he happens to be facing that day.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have the misfortune of facing one of the hottest pitchers in baseball to start this season, but because this is a dumb sport where weird things happen maybe that’s just what they need to break out of their collective slump. The former number five overall pick is finally pitching up to his potential this season, sitting with a 1.74 ERA through his first five starts to go with a 2.08 FIP. There basically hasn’t been a weakness for the righty so far this season, with a high strikeout rate, low walk rate, and even a higher ground ball rate than we’ve seen from him in years. If you’re looking for some reason for optimism, he is coming off his worst start of the year, though that’s a seven-inning outing in which he allowed three runs, so really not that bad. Wright will lean heavily on his curveball while also featuring a pair of mid-90s fastballs and a changeup.

5/11: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Ian Anderson, 7:20 PM ET

If the Red Sox are going to rebound in this short trip down to Atlanta, they have the pitchers they’d want on the mound, first in Whitlock and then with Eovaldi. The one issue for the latter continues to be the long ball, which is a little scary against a Braves team that is not exactly short on power. After not allowing a homer in his start previous to his last — the first time he’d done that this year— he allowed another one his last time out. But even with the long balls he’s been excellent, sitting pretty much in line with what he did last season in terms of strikeouts and walks and boasting a sub-3.00 ERA.

Anderson is another high draft pick from the Braves rebuilding years last decade, having been picked third overall in 2016, the year before Wright was chosen fifth overall. Anderson hasn’t quite developed to the point that Wright has this season, struggling through five starts with a 4.01 ERA and a 5.03 FIP. Historically he’s been a guy that can miss a ton of bats, but a lack of control shortens his outings and gets him into trouble. Well, this year he’s still issuing the walks, but the strikeout rate has dropped significantly. The Red Sox have had a ton of trouble this year sitting back and letting the pitcher come to them, but in a matchup like this it is imperative. If they let Anderson get into a rhythm and expand the zone for him, it could be a long night. The righty will feature a fastball, changeup, and curveball.

Old Friends

Collin McHugh never technically played for the Red Sox, but did sign here in 2020 before opting out of that COVID season. He was a possible target for Boston this past winter as well, but ended up in Atlanta.

Tyler Thornburg is indeed still pitching after flaming out in Boston, largely due to injury. He’s only thrown 7 13 innings this year, but they’ve been quite good with a 1.23 ERA and a 1.31 FIP.

Notable Position Players

Ronald Acuña Jr. missed the second half of last season, including the playoff run, and the first few weeks of this year, but is back and prominently featured in this lineup. At his best, Acuña is among the most impactful players in the game, contributing in all facets.

Matt Olson was the replacement for longtime Brave Freddie Freeman, who left in free agency. If you’re going to lose someone like Freeman, it’s hard to think of a better replacement than Olson. He’s still got the same power and patience from his early days in Oakland, and over the last couple of years he’s cut way down on his strikeouts to become an elite bat in this league.

Ozzie Albies is often a forgotten piece of this roster, but he makes a lot of things happen at the top of the order with his contact skills and baserunning prowess.

Milwaukee Brewers v Atlanta Braves
Ozzie Albies
Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images

Austin Riley broke out in a big way last season to help Atlanta absorb the Acuña loss, and he’s picked up right where he left off this year with intimidating power along with some newfound patience.

Marcell Ozuna was suspended for most of last season with a domestic violence allegation, and on the field has struggled to get back to his previous form.

Travis d’Arnaud is off to a nice start at the plate despite a glaring lack of walks, leaning on some batted ball luck for a 122 wRC+.

Adam Duvall has gone in the opposite direction, with a high strikeout rate not being supported by his typical power output.

Travis Demeritte has had a long road to the majors, but is off to a nice start in his current role with Atlanta.

Dansby Swanson isn’t going to win MVPs, but is a solid presence for this Braves team with good defense at shortstop and a roughly league-average bat.

Bullpen Snapshot

Kenley Jansen left the Dodgers after a long and impressive run there, landing with Atlanta in free agency to serve as their closer. He’s off to a great start with his control back down to his prime levels and a FIP under 1.00.

Will Smith is one of two big-time lefties in this bullpen, though he’s putting up good results early this year despite a few extra homers and a declining strikeout rate.

Tyler Matzek is the other big-time lefty having emerged last season, but his control has taken a hit so far this season, especially over his last few outings.

Injuries

Mike Soroka hasn’t pitched in a couple of years thanks to a brutal Achilles injury, but he’s rehabbing now and could be back in the second half.

Eddie Rosario had been having some vision problems and had a procedure to fix the blurriness he was experiencing and will be out until late June or July.

Kirby Yates is working his way back from Tommy John and could be another late-inning option for the final month or so of the season.

Weather Forecast

It should be ideal baseball weather for both of these games, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid 70s.


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.