Even if it wasn’t pretty, and it involved yet another Braves starter getting knocked around, Atlanta pulled through on Thursday versus the Marlins — winning in walk-off fashion by a score of 7-6, to both avoid the four-game sweep and get back in the win column for the first time since back on April 10th. At 5-8 overall, and still looking up at Miami, Philadelphia and New York in the division, the Braves have some catching up to do. Although, with Friday being the start of a brand new series, Atlanta has a chance to cover some ground this weekend.

Say hello to the Chicago Cubs, the major’s worst offensive team right now and another club that’s currently performing at a very underwhelming pace this season.

While Atlanta’s lineup has certainly had its issues in 2021, combining for a .219 AVG and 90 wRC+ before Thursday’s win, Chicago has been even worse. The Cubs enter Friday’s series opener at Wrigley Field with both MLB’s worst AVG (.163) and wRC+ (59), which through a dozen games thus far, has allowed them to score only 32 runs overall (third-worst in the majors through Wednesday) for an average of just 2.6 runs per game. Folks, this is a bad offense, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of an improvement, either, as the Cubs have managed just a 62 wRC+ over the last week.

Sure, the Braves have been bad themselves, losing four-straight recently. But Atlanta hasn’t had any problems hitting the ball. Coming into Thursday’s win over Miami, over the last seven games the Braves ranked third in MLB with a 123 wRC+ to go along with a .262 AVG (fifth-best).

These appear to be two teams headed in totally different directions on offense, which should make for a huge advantage for Atlanta this weekend. We said it when the Marlins came to town at the beginning of the week (and that didn’t go too well), but this Cubs series should be a good one for the Braves, and an opportunity to get this season going in the direction we all expected it to.

Here are the pitcher matchups for this weekend…

Game 1: Friday @ 2:20 PM / Bally Sports Southeast

Drew Smyly vs. Zach Davies

The swing and miss has certainly been there for Drew Smyly as he’s currently averaging a punchout per inning through his first 11 frames in 2021.

However, with already three home runs allowed, he needs to keep the ball in the park when he takes the mound for Game 1 on Friday. Seemingly like all Braves starters recently, Smyly allowed too many runs his last time out, surrendering five versus the Phillies back on April 12th. The root of his problem in 2021 is ultra-hard contact (61.3 HardHit%), so hopefully the light-hitting Cubbies are a welcoming opponent that’ll build the veteran’s confidence.

Zach Davies has had the luxury of going up against the lowly Pirates in his first two starts of the season… but in both outings he was… well, not very good, allowing nine runs from nine hits in 7 ⅓ innings combined.

The right-handed Davies is a sinker-baller that’s made a living by commanding his sub-90-MPH sinker to generate ground balls, along with a changeup that he throws nearly 40% of the time. Though he’s probably deserved more playing-time anyways, if there was ever a day to do it… Friday is the day to start the Braves newest clutch-hitter, Pablo Sandoval, at third base. The Big Panda has crushed Davies during his career, posting a .364 AVG with three XBH in 11 PA so far. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna has also gotten a good look at Chicago’s starter for Game 1. Ozuna is 7 for 20 (.350 AVG) with a double versus Davies. 

Game 2: Saturday @ 2:20 PM / Bally Sports Southeast 

Huascar Ynoa vs. Trevor Willams 

The Braves hottest starting pitcher at the moment, Huascar Ynoa is skating by with a 0.75 ERA despite the fact that he’s allowed some rather hard contact (46.2 HardHit% / 11.5 Barrel%). The raised arm-slot and continued development of his repertoire has certainly paid off, though, allowing Ynoa to have his breakout performance last time out when he tossed six innings of one-run ball against Miami — an outing in which he struck out a career-high ten Marlins.

That 85-MPH slider is filthy, and Ynoa has went to it more than even his high-90s MPH fastball, so get ready for some punchouts in Game 2 on Saturday. 

Man… Pittsburgh has had the Cubs number so far in 2021, and Trevor Williams was the victim back on April 11th when the Pirates pummeled the righty to the tune of five runs from ten hits before he made it out of the fourth inning. Nothing has gone right for the 28-year-old Williams this season, illustrated by his 6.75 ERA through 9 1/3 innings. He throws a ton of pitches, and though he seems to be limiting the hard contact rather well, opposing batters have managed to post at least a .250 AVG versus each of his five offerings. With Williams having been around the majors since 2016, several Braves have had some success off him, most notably Ozuna, who, in 17 PA against the Cubs pitcher, has slashed .438/.471/.500 with a double and four RBI. 

Game 3: Sunday @ 7:08 PM / ESPN

TBA (Bryse Wilson?) vs. Adbert Alzolay 

With Max Fried on the IL and unavailable for this series, Game 3 on Sunday Night Baseball should feature a starter we haven’t seen yet this season. On Thursday it was reported that lefty Tucker Davidson had been optioned to the Braves alternate site, presumably opening up a roster spot for whoever will take the mound in the rubber match… which at this point looks likely to be righty Bryse Wilson.

The Bulldog had a strong spring camp, pitching to a 1.38 ERA in 13 ⅔ innings for Atlanta, and his command looked much improved. I’m sure we’ll find out for sure either Friday or Saturday, but Wilson is the man if it was my pick. 

Suffering from some rough luck so far this season, 26-year-old Venezuelan Adbert Alzolay — Chicago’s former no. 5 prospect, per FanGraphs — is slated to start for the Cubs in the final game on Sunday.

Alzolay has dealt with walk issues while a major leaguer in parts of the last two seasons, but in 2021, it appears he’s corrected that problem so far, averaging 2.61 walks per nine. But even so, the hard contact has been brutal for Alzolay, and despite those improvements, his ERA sits at 6.10 entering this weekend. Armed with five pitches, Alzolay has primarily depended on his slider for almost 40% of his arsenal this season, which so far has allowed just a .136 AVG. He also throws a four-seamer (93 MPH) and a hard stinker (94 MPH), each roughly accounting for a quarter of the pitches, to go along with a changeup and curveball. Alzolay’s two starts this season have both came against the Brewers, in which he’s combined for seven runs allowed from seven hits and three walks, to go with six strikeouts in 10 ⅓ innings.

Two out of three, and perhaps even a sweep, is certainly doable for the Braves this weekend. But most importantly, this three-game set is the perfect time for Atlanta’s starting pitching to get back on track.

This article first appeared on SportsTalkATL and was syndicated with permission.

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