Braves Preview: Atlanta continues road trip against AL West-leading Rangers
By Chris Turner
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Atlanta Braves are riding a four-game losing streak, fresh off of being swept against an AL contender.
The Blue Jays won three hard-fought games against Atlanta in Toronto over the weekend, with the Braves blowing leads in two of the three games. It's not all on the pitching, the offense ended the three game set posting a 2-20 mark with runners in scoring position.
Monday presents a chance to reset, and avoid the longest losing streak for the Braves since September of 2017 when they lost six in a row. They'll have to overcome one of the early surprises in 2023 in the Texas Rangers.
What to Watch for in Monday's game
Charlie and the Strikeout Factory
With the Braves rotation slowly getting whittled down by injuries, Charlie Morton has stepped up in a big way to keep the team afloat in the absence of Max Fried and Kyle Wright.
In his last five starts, Morton has struck out 32 batters. He's tied for second on the team this year with Bryce Elder with 39 Ks in 2023. Unrelated Looney Tunes level stat: Spencer Strider has more strikeouts than the two of them combined.
Walks have still been an issue for Morton in 2023, but he's been able to pitch at least six innings in four of his last five starts, saving a bullpen that's picking up a lot of work recently. Atlanta could use a strong six innings again from Charlie against a very good Texas offense.
Riley (not) Raking
While Sean Murphy and Ronald Acuña Jr. have surged to the top of the NL MVP rankings, Austin Riley has struggled to find any rhythm at the plate in May. He's hitting .236 this month with an OPS just North of .600. He's managed only two extra base hits in 60 plate appearances this month, with just one home run coming against the Marlins on May 3rd.
His average exit velocity is down a little from 2022, and he's striking out at a slightly higher clip.
Riley has been one of the few Braves hitting consistently during this losing streak, hitting .313 over the last four games. It would be a welcome sign for the rest of the month if he's able to keep the momentum going Monday against Texas.
No DeGrom, No Problem
The Rangers made waves for the second offseason in a row with a very splashy free agent signing, this time luring Jacob DeGrom from New York with a 5-year, $185 million deal last December.
He made five starts for Texas (2.57 ERA, 38 K) before hitting the injured list with elbow inflammation. He's been missed, but the Rangers rotation around him has developed into one of the most underrated in baseball so far this year. Texas is top ten in ERA and Quality Starts so far this year.
Nathan Eovaldi has thrown 25.2 consecutive scoreless innings, where hitters are only managing a .131 average against him in that span. Jon Gray is putting up some of the best numbers of his career so far. While their numbers aren't as impressive, Andrew Heaney and Martín Perez have pitched some valuable innings for the Rangers in 2023.
Texas is calling up its #26 ranked prospect to make the start against Atlanta on Monday night. Cody Bradford has been dominating at Triple-A Round Rock this year, with an 0.91 ERA in 39.2 innings of work. He leads the Pacific Coast League in ERA, WHIP, and opponent batting average.
There's always the unknown of facing a pitcher you've never faced before, so don't be surprised if the Braves take a minute to find their footing against Bradford.