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Braves to win
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The biggest game on MLB’s Friday schedule features the Atlanta Braves hosting the Houston Astros in the first game of a three-game series. These teams are quite familiar with each other after facing one another in the 2021 World Series, which the Braves won in six games. Of course, the Astros got back to the Fall Classic last year, beating the Phillies in six games. These teams also met last August with the Braves winning two of three games.
However, while the Astros are the reigning World Series champions, they haven’t exactly looked like champions this year. Houston got off to a sluggish start and is just 9-10, already falling 3.5 games behind the Rangers in the AL West. The good news is the Astros have a +19 run differential, making their expected record 11-8, so they’ve played a little better than their losing record suggests. They also have a chance to get to .500 with a win on Friday and are hoping that rookie Hunter Brown can continue his strong start and get them there.
As for the Braves, they have jumped to the top of the NL East standings, sitting at 14-5 heading into Friday’s game. The only caveat is that the Braves open their homestand coming off a loss, falling to the Padres 1-0 on Wednesday. But that loss snapped an eight-game winning streak, making the Braves one of the hottest teams in baseball during April. Just like the Astros, Atlanta has a young starter who’s had success early in 2023 taking the mound with Bryce Elder getting the ball.
Despite Atlanta’s recent winning streak, oddsmakers have made the Astros slight favorites in Friday’s game. DraftKings has Houston’s moneyline at -115 compared to Atlanta’s moneyline at -105. There is also an over/under of 8.5 runs, although the odds are slightly skewed toward the under.
The normally potent Houston lineup has been running hot and cold during the early part of the season. Over the team’s last 13 games, the Astros have scored at least six runs on seven occasions, including an 8-1 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday. But at the same time, the Astros have been held to two runs or less in three of their last six games. In addition to Jose Altuve starting the season on the IL, Michael Brantley and Chas McCormick are also hurt, so the Houston lineup isn’t at full strength. The power of Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker has helped to carry the Astros early in the season. But the Astros need more consistent contributions from other sources, especially with Alvarez, Jose Abreu, and Jeremy Pena going cold over the last week.
It’ll be imperative that Brown continues to pitch at a high level. In his first three starts of 2023, the 24-year-old righty is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. He got off to a rough start in his season debut against the Tigers but has given Houston seven strong innings in back-to-back starts. Over those 14 innings, Brown has allowed just seven hits with all three runs he’s allowed being unearned. If Friday turns into another off-night for the Houston offense, the Astros will need Brown and the bullpen to step up.
Until they got shut out on Wednesday, the Braves had been rolling offensively. During their recent eight-game winning streak, the Braves scored at least five runs in all but one game. With Atlanta pitching holding opponents to four runs or less in eight of the team’s last nine games, five runs is the magic number for the Braves. Atlanta already has four players with at least four home runs on the season while Ronald Acuna has become one of the hottest hitters in the majors, batting .360 with an OPS of 1.008 over his last six games. Even with Orlando Arcia and Michael Harris on the IL, the Braves are finding plenty of firepower in their lineup.
At the same time, the Braves are thrilled with what Elder has given them this season. The 23-year-old righty flashed plenty of promise in 10 appearances last season and has hit the ground running in 2023. After three starts, he owns a 1.53 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. However, after throwing at least six scoreless innings in his first two starts of the season, Elder was tagged for three runs on eight hits over 5.1 innings in his last start. However, the youngster is yet to allow a home run this season, which should allow him to neutralize Houston’s power hitters and enable the Atlanta offense to get back on track and carry the first-place Braves to another win.
The over/under in this game is a tough call because these teams are a combined 22-14-2 O/U this season. The Braves have also hit the over in five of their seven home games and have shown a propensity for scoring a lot of runs. But there are two young and talented pitchers on the mound in this game against batters who haven’t faced them before and didn’t play on Thursday. Both teams could be kept under wraps in this game, especially during the early innings. The Astros, in particular, could be held in check, so even if the Braves find a way to get to five runs, the total should still stay below 8.5 runs.
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What: Houston Astros vs Atlanta Braves
Where: Truist Park
When: 7:20 PM EST
How to Watch: Apple TV
Max Heering graduated from the University of Kansas Sport Management program in May 2020. Max follows and writes about the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, college football, and college basketball. In his free time, you can catch Max draining threes on the basketball court. Email: [email protected]More info on Max Heering
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