The depleted Atlanta Braves take on the surging Miami Marlins in what will be a battle of the top two teams in the National League East. Only the latter is the one in unfamiliar territory. Despite playing just 12 games, the Marlins are wading in the top spot due to their win percentage.
The Braves are in desperate need of support. They have lost three straight games, including six of their last 10. The glaring hole lies within their starting rotation.
The offense has been fine despite a rash of injuries and slumps. Ozzie Albies was placed on the IL last week (wrist) while his buddy Ronald Acuna has been scratched from the starting lineup due to a similar contusion.
Meanwhile, the bullpen is doing their best piecing together innings in lieu of capable starters. Whether it’s injuries, opt-outs or a hard case of the yips, the Atlanta pitching staff has been whittled down to a makeshift palooza headlined by one shining star. Max Fried is the lone horse left in that regard.
Some dynamic of that predicament can change starting tonight.
Kyle Wright takes the mound looking for that ever-elusive first MLB win. The former 1st round pick is 0-5 with a 7.41 ERA in his young career. When the Braves drafted Wright at No. 5 in the 2017 June Amateur Draft, many expected a quick rise to the majors. According to Atlanta’s front office, he was “their guy.”
Fast-forward three years later, and the former Vanderbilt star has 14 big league appearances under his belt. Prior to Spring Training, Wright was projected to battle for a spot in the back-end of the starting rotation. Not much pressure was there on either side. The Braves had the luxury of rotating veterans Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels. Wright had the opportunity to learn from them, as well as other veterans.
Now, after a broken preseason and a fractured pitching staff, Wright is being called upon to help stop Atlanta’s bleeding. And if Wright doesn’t perform up to expectations tonight, it is reasonable to question if he ever will for the Braves.
Here are a few reasons why the Huntsville, Alabama native can turn things around against the Fish.
Expected Support From The Offense
Yes, the Braves will be without Albies and Acuna. But that doesn’t mean they will be missing firepower. Wright faces Pablo Lopez, who has shown promise this year. But this season is young, especially for the Marlins. Lopez had a 5.09 ERA last season.
Atlanta crushes right-handed pitching. They currently have eight players sans the aforementioned, who have an OPS north of .800 vs RHP. They all have double-digit plate appearances. The Braves are also consistent wherever they play in terms of getting on base and slugging. Their OPS is .744 on the road versus .763 at home.
Lopez’s ERA (1.80) is spectacular after just 10 IP. But let’s watch as the sample-size expands. Miami is just average in overall ERA (4.22). But there last three games have shown a downfall. In those contests, they displayed a 5.33 ERA.
Most of that attrition is due to their durability throughout nine innings. The Marlins give up 1.25 runs per game during the last three innings. The Braves only give up .40, good for second in the majors. At the plate, Miami generates an average of .58 RPG during the last three innings, good for 29th in the league. Atlanta is 11th in that category with 1.45 RPG.
Everyone knows Derek Jeter is the owner of the Miami franchise. But one could argue the Braves can lay stake in a share of the wealth.
Atlanta holds a record of 29-9 against the Marlins over the past two seasons. Miami hasn’t posted a winning year since 2009. In this truncated season, could the Fish survive the tidal wave of surprises and unorthodox play?
Perhaps. In a 60-game season, anyone has a chance. But the billowing of the Marlins is likely just a rolling wave that will die at the shores of commonplace.
Now or Never
In the words of Walter White, “time is of the essence.”
That message can’t ring more true for Wright. This is his chance to prove he is exactly what the franchise pictured when they drafted him as their No.1 pick three years ago.
If there is any silver lining in his inflated ERA, it’s that perhaps his best outing to date came against Miami in 2019. Wright threw 6 innings, surrendering five hits and two runs in a no decision. If not that game, then last week’s outing versus Philadelphia was his showcase. Wright did amazing work despite giving up two home runs. His two biggest mistakes were driven out of Citizens Bank Park by sluggers Jay Bruce and JT Realmuto. If not for those blunders, we could be talking about how Wright is trending upward.
Instead, the Braves are still waiting for a breakout performance for Wright. And for the young pitcher, it might be sink or swim down in Miami.