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Series preview: Pirates look to snap skid in four-game series vs. Braves

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The Pirates are ATL-bound this weekend.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves, May 20-23, 2021

Location: Truist Field, Atlanta, GA

TV: AT&T Sports Pittsburgh

Radio: KDKA-AM

Braves SB Nation Site: Talking Chop


It’s a four-game set this weekend as the Pirates travel down south to visit reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves.

Here’s a look at what we can expect this weekend:

Projected Starters

Thursday, 7:20 p.m. EST

Wil Crowe (0-2, 4.35 ERA) vs. Drew Smyly (2-2, 5.23 ERA)

Friday, 7:20 p.m. EST

Tyler Anderson (3-3, 3.50 ERA) vs. Ian Anderson (3-1, 3.20 ERA)

Saturday, 4:10 p.m. EST

Mitch Keller (2-5, 7.16 ERA) vs. TBD

Sunday, 1:20 p.m. EST

JT Brubaker (3-3, 3.27 ERA) vs. Max Fried (1-2, 5.46 ERA)

Projected Lineups

Pirates

  1. Adam Frazier (2B)
  2. Kevin Newman (SS)
  3. Bryan Reynolds (CF)
  4. Colin Moran (1B)
  5. Gregory Polanco (RF)
  6. Erik Gonzalez (3B)
  7. Jacob Stallings (C)
  8. Ka’ai Tom (LF)
  9. Starting Pitcher

Braves

  1. Ronald Acuña Jr. (RF)
  2. Freddie Freeman (1B)
  3. Marcell Ozuna (LF)
  4. Ozzie Albies (2B)
  5. Austin Riley (3B)
  6. Dansby Swanson (SS)
  7. William Contreras (C)
  8. Guillermo Heredia (CF)
  9. Starting Pitcher

We spoke to Daniel Hutchinson-Kautsch (@bravesdaniel) of Talking Chop to get a better insight into the Braves season so far and what to look for this weekend. Here’s what he had to say:

The Braves season thus far has been one of immense frustration for Braves fans. The team came into the season with the potential to have a great offense and a great rotation with a find bullpen, one year after coming within one game of the world series. Last season the offense was one of the best in the league and was returning all of it’s major pieces, save for Adam Duvall. Last year’s rotation was a disaster with injuries and underperformance, but the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly combined with a full season of Ian Anderson and the return of Mike Soroka gave this 2021 rotation exciting potential. The bullpen was expected to take a step back after being genuinely incredible in 2020, but was still projected to be around average.

Instead of what was expected to be a really good, balanced team, the Braves have a losing record and a negative run differential, due to underperformance, bad luck, and injuries. If you really want to dive in deep to the pit of despair with Braves fans, an extensive writeup can be found here. Mike Soroka is now expected to be out for most of the season, if not all, starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud is on the 60-day IL, backup catcher Alex Jackson is on the IL, rookie center fielder Cristian Pache is on the IL, the Braves best pitcher so far in 2021, rookie Huascar Ynoa is on the 60-day IL with a broken hand, and the team has missed stints of Max Fried, Drew Smyly, Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, Guillermo Heredia, Chris Martin, and Sean Newcomb with injuries. The Braves offense has the second largest underperformance of it’s wOBA compared to it’s xwOBA, in the league and is only 10th best in runs scored, despite hitting a league leading number of home runs. Meanwhile the pitching has been bad, giving up the fourth most home runs in the league, and the bullpen has had rotten BABIP luck, with the league’s seventh-best xwOBA against bullpens, but the tenth-worst wOBA. Managerial tactics have been not great for Atlanta, with highly questionable bullpen management and leaving starting pitchers in too long. Finally, what had been a strength for Atlanta for the last 3 seasons has been a weakness: winning close games late. The Braves are 0-8 in games that were tied after eight innings and have had leads evaporate on multiple occasions, one year after the team was absolutely lockdown when leading late, and with a team that has been notorious for mounting late-game comebacks. Last year the Braves were 30-1 when tied or leading after 6 innings.

After all this griping, I do need to mention the bright spots. Ronald Acuna has been completely absurd and is solidly in the MVP discussion in this early season. He has nearly halved his strikeout rate, is mashing the ball, stealing bases, being absurdly fast, playing good defense, having a bonkers throwing arm, and just being generally awesome. Young third baseman Austin Riley may be finally figuring the big leagues out after a long period of struggles at the plate, as he currently boasts a .291/.400/.433 slash line with a 131 wRC+. It’s a bit of an odd line for a guy billed as a power hitter as a prospect, but some recent homers could be an indicator that he’s finding the power again, now that he’s improved his approach at the plate. Huascar Ynoa was a massive bright spot, with a 3.02 ERA and hitting two home runs as a 22 year old rookie pitcher, until he had a bad outing on Sunday and broke his pitching hand punching a bench in frustration, so he is now out for a couple months.

Ultimately, the Braves are not dead, at only 4 games back in the NL East and 19-23, but they are running out of time to right the ship. Perhaps a team with a mascot based on ships can help them set sail on the right course. Know any team like that?