The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off their first series of the 2023 season with a series win against the Toronto Blue Jays. Next up on the schedule for the Cardinals is the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are 2-1 after taking a series from the Washington Nationals and according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections are projected to finish the season with around 94 wins in a tough National League East.
In the 3-game series the Braves are starting Charlie Morton in game 1 and Dylan Dodd will make his debut in game 2. Max Fried made the Opening Day start for the Braves, but after just over 3 innings — 43 pitches in the game — he had to leave the game with a hamstring injury and it is reported he is headed to the Injured List. The Braves starter for game 2 is currently TBD as a result.
Morton will be making his first start of 2023 on Monday, but the Cardinals have a lot of experience against him from his days on the Pittsburgh Pirates and a lot of success in that time. He has faced the Cardinals 20 times in his career for a record of 3-12 with a 5.33 ERA. Over his career has has a 4.03 ERA and 3.77 FIP. ZiPS projects him to improve from last season with his home run/fly ball rate regressing down from 1.47 in 2022 to 1.03. As for his pitch arsenal Morton is known for his curveball, which makes sense because it is the pitch he throws the most at 38%. It is also his best pitch. Even during his struggles in 2022 his curveball was his only pitch was a negative run value with garnered a 41.8% Wiff rate. The rest of the time he throws a 4-seam fastball and peppers in a sinker, cutter, and a changeup. His worst pitch last year looks to have been his cutter. In 2022 the batting average against his cutter .353 and it was hammered for .912 slugging percentage in the 271 times he threw it.
The Braves number 13 prospect Dylan Dodd will make his Major League debut Tuesday after only 6 2⁄3 innings at AAA. In just over 46 innings in AA he had 3.11 ERA and 3.87 FIP with a 28.4 K% and 6.7 BB%. According to Fangraphs Eric Longenhagen his fastball is topping out around 96 mph and his command is really good. Per Longenhagen: “His stuff is fine, not great, but he has plus-plus command of everything, he goes right at hitters, and his fastball has enough hair on it to stay off barrels even though it isn’t a dominant, riding pitch.”
On offense the Braves are pretty deep. As a team they had 111 wRC+ in 2022 and in three games in 2023 have scored 15 runs. First baseman Matt Olsen has been off to a strong start with 2 home runs in 13 plate appearances and a 15.4% walk rate. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. has one of the team’s other homers, but has had some tough luck on balls in play with a .200 BABIP in 15 plate appearances despite being the 91st percentile in exit velocity. Conversely, second baseman Ozzie Albies has a batting average on balls in play of .333, but has no extra base hits yet. He has also yet to strikeout in 13 plate appearances.
One of the bigger moves of the Braves offseason was the addition of catcher Sean Murphy via trade with the Oakland Athletics. He was one of the most valuable catchers in baseball in 2022 with 5.1 fWAR with that value coming from both sides of the plate. He hit for a 122 wRC+ with a slash line of .250/.332/.426. Per Fangraphs, his defense in 2022 only amassed 1 defensive run saved, but a lot of his value looks to be from pitch framing where he has 8.7 framing runs.
The Braves are projected to be one of the top teams in the National League in 2023 and are without many clear weaknesses. It is still early, but this series could be a good benchmark for the Cardinals to see how well they can stack up against some of the NL’s best.
Monday, April 3 at 6:45 pm CT: Charlie Morton vs. Jake Woodford
Tuesday, April 4 at 6:45 pm CT: Dylan Dodd vs. Steven Matz
Wednesday, April 5 at 12:15 pm CT: TBD vs. Miles Mikolas