Braves will travel to a whole ‘nother country to play baseball, as they’re set to take on a scuffling-of-late Blue Jays team tonight. Thursday’s off day was very much needed as the strength of schedule is about to crank up a notch. Beginning with tomorrow’s series opener, the Atlanta Braves next 16 games (or five series) will feature several contenders; a group that, collectively, is 19 games above .500 (102-83), entering today. 

  • Blue Jays (x3) – 21-16
  • Rangers (x3) – 22-14
  • Mariners (x3) – 18-19
  • Dodgers (x3) – 23-15
  • Phillies (x4) – 18-19

What’s more, the Braves will be without starters Max Fried and Kyle Wright, who are both expected to be out at least two months. On the bright side, once that Phillies series wraps up on May 28, the competition calms back down quite a bit, as Atlanta’s next six series features matchups against the likes of the Athletics, Nationals, Tigers and Rockies (though the D’Backs and Mets are mixed in there as well). Regardless, the month of May is about to become a difficult one, and these next 16 games will be critical for the Braves as the team attempts to extend its division lead over the 2nd-place Marlins, where the Bravos pace the field by 6.5 games entering today.

Know Thy Canadians: Toronto Blue Jays

Looking at the next series, the Braves will no doubt have its hands full with the Blue Jays, even if – on paper – Atlanta is a better all-around club. As a team, Toronto’s lineup gets on base at a nice clip (7th in MLB in OBP), doesn’t strikeout a ton (25th lowest K%), has average power (14th in HR), and generally runs the bases well (ranks 6th in BsR, per FanGraphs). The Blue Jays offense also hits a lot of line drives (20.6% – ranks 6th), mostly to the opposite field (t-3rd in Oppo% – 26.9%), and overall does a great job of barreling the ball – entering Thursday with the third-highest barrel-rate in baseball (10.6%).

However, after that, this is essentially an average-ish team. The starting rotation so far has been mostly middle-of-the-road, ranking 10th in strikeouts per nine (8.9), though just 13th in ERA (4.13) and 14th in FIP (4.26). The bullpen is closer to below-average, so far posting a 4.02 ERA (20th) and 4.11 FIP (17th). The Braves get the Blue Jays at a pretty good time too, as Toronto has lost 7 of its last 10 games entering Thursday, including losses in its last two. The Blue Jays enter Friday with a 21-16 overall record on the year – good for 4th place in an ultra-competitive AL East, where baseball’s best club – Tampa Bay Rays – reside. 

Braves vs. Blue Jays: Blue Jays Individual Leaders


This Toronto lineup currently carries four players with at least 1 WAR already this season, with third baseman Matt Chapman already up to 2 WAR, giving him a 7.8 WAR pace over 600 PA. Along with WAR, Chapman leads the club in wRC+ (180), AVG (.338), OBP (.425), SLG (.579) and wOBA (.430), as he’s clearly been one of the best hitters in baseball so far in 2023 (he also leads MLB in AVG).

After him its been both Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that’s brought the power, as the former leads the club with eight homers, while the latter is second with seven long balls. Bichette also leads the team in runs (26) and RBI (24), while hitting .329 – good for a 153 wRC+ and a second-best 1.8 WAR. Vlad Jr. is essentially right behind Bichette with his traditional numbers, hitting .312 on the season, to go with a 156 wRC+, though thanks to some below-average defense he’s *only* at 1 WAR.

Other big contributors for the Blue Jays lineup include both Kevin Kiermaier (1 WAR) and Daulton Varsho (0.7 WAR). Kiermaier’s 121 wRC+ and above-average defense is allowing him to enjoy a hot start, while Varsho’s five home runs (third-most on the team) gives Toronto’s batting order more pop. As mentioned above, none of these guys strikeout much, with Chapman’s 25.5 K% easily the highest K rate among qualified Blue Jays hitters. 


On the mound, Kevin Gausman has (by far) been the Blue Jays best pitcher. Already at 1.8 WAR so far in 2023, Gausman enters the series with a 3.38 ERA / 2.31 FIP, to go with 12.5 strikeouts per nine and just 1.3 walks per nine in eight starts (48 IP). Luckily, it appears the Braves will miss the resurgent right-hander this weekend.

After Gausman, Jose Berrios has been the team’s no. 2. He hasn’t been nearly as dominant (4.91 ERA / 3.24 FIP) as Gausman, but striking out a batter per inning (9.1 K/9) and keeping the walks (1.7 BB/9) and homers (0.89 HR/9) down has allowed him turn in solid numbers so far.

The Blue Jays bullpen is led by Tim Mayza (1.42 ERA / 1.50 FIP), Jordan Romano (3.60 ERA / 2.84 FIP) and Erik Swanson (1.45 ERA / 3.26 FIP) – a trio that together has combined to average 10.7 K/9 in 46.1 total innings. With nine saves on the year, Romano has been the team’s primary closer.

Braves vs. Bluejays Series Matchups

GM 1 – Friday @ 7:07 PM

Spencer Strider (4-0, 2.70 ERA) vs. Chris Bassitt (4-2, 4.28 ERA)

On paper, the Braves should no doubt come in as favorites for Game 1 of this series. Strider is definitely the better pitcher, entering the weekend as MLB’s top strikeout artist and a legit top-five starter in the game. The Braves hard-throwing righty has punched out at least eight batters in all seven of his outings so far in 2023, hence the MLB leading 15.08 K/9. The Blue Jays Bassitt is essentially the opposite type of pitcher, depending on weak contact, which he’s done a fairly nice job doing so far this season, ranking in the top 84% and 82% in both average exit velocity and HardHit%, respectively. The Toronto righty throws a whopping eight pitches, led by a 91-92 MPH sinker that he uses nearly 40% of the time. However, it’s his sweeper that’s considered his go-to weapon as it’s generated a 40% whiff-rate and held opposing batters to a .091 AVG. Against opposite-handed hitters, though, Bassitt will lean on his cutter, and so far it hasn’t been nearly as effective, allowing a .333 AVG to go with a .556 SLG. He has a solid curve too, but if Bassitt’s sweeper pitch isn’t working, the Braves should have no trouble knocking him out of the game on Friday.

GM 2 – Saturday @ 3:07 PM

Bryce Elder (3-0, 1.74 ERA) vs. José Berríos (3-3, 4.91 ERA)

It’s been rather unexplainable, but so far Elder has pitched extremely well for the Braves in 2023. Somehow, with below-average velocity, and actually not even the best command, the young righty enters Saturday with a sub-2.00 ERA. For Toronto, Berrios has been a bit unlucky, recently striking out seven in 6.1 innings against the Pirates last week, though not factoring into the decision. He currently sports an ERA (4.91) over 1.5 runs higher than his FIP (3.24). For Berrios its been all about limiting free passes so far in 2023, as he ranks within the top 85 percent in walk-rate. The four-pitch pitcher relies rather heavily on all four of those offerings, throwing all of them at least 15% of time. But it’s really been the slurve that has allowed him to post strong underlying numbers, as so far opposing batters have hit just .212 against it, to go with a 35.3% whiff-rate. Against lefty-batters, though, Berrios will go with his changeup – an offering he chooses his spots with. And so far the offspeed has been a nice swing-and-miss pitch for him (42.6% whiff-rate), even if batters are hitting over .300 against it.

GM 3 – Sunday @ 1:37 PM

TBD vs. Yusei Kikuchi (5-0, 3.35 ERA)

With a pair of rotation arms on the IL, the Braves may have to make a last-minute decision as to who will start Sunday’s series finale. In terms of starters it’s slim pickins, as Charlie Morton just pitched for the Braves this past Tuesday in the Red Sox series, and both Dylan Dodd (Tuesday) and Jared Shuster (Wednesday) each have had recent outings in Triple-A. Maybe a bullpen game, or 3-4 innings from Michael Tonkin.

For the Blue Jays on Sunday, it’ll be Kikuchi, who’s been benefiting from some good luck so far in 2023 (3.35 ERA / 5.04 FIP). The 31-year-old lefty has seen quite a drop in K rate (7.8 K/9) this season, not to mention a career-worst in terms of average exit-velocity allowed (92.2 MPH). But regardless, Kikuchi has done a great job of limiting free passes (1.9 BB/9), while also sporting a ridiculous left-on-base rate of 92% (which is no doubt unsustainable). The Blue Jays southpaw throws four pitches and owns a 95 MPH four-seam fastball that he’ll throw just over 40% of the time, even though its been getting knocked around a bit in 2023 (.339 AVG / .482 SLG). Kikuchi’s weapon so far has been the slider – a pitch that has held opponents to a .207 AVG, including a 33.2% whiff-rate. He also throws a changeup and curve. 

The Braves really need to take advantage of the fact that not only has Toronto been struggling of late, but Atlanta will also miss Gausman. Taking two out of three should certainly be attainable, and would put the Braves in a nice position as it begins a really difficult stretch of games this month.

Tonight’s Braves Lineup

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