(Photo credit: Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports)
The Atlanta Braves, who clinched their sixth straight National League East title on Wednesday, open a three-game road series against another NL East club chasing a playoff berth, the Miami Marlins, on Friday.
Right-hander Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.38 ERA) will start for Atlanta. Elder, second on the team in wins this season, is 1-2 with a 2.83 ERA in six career starts against the Marlins. In Miami, Elder is 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts.
This has been a breakthrough season for Elder, 24, who was Atlanta's fifth-round pick in 2020. The former Texas Longhorns standout broke into the majors last year, going 2-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 10 games, including nine starts.
The Braves this season are 20-8 when starting Elder. That includes a current streak of five straight wins.
Atlanta's bullpen is led by closer Raisel Iglesias, who is one shy of his fourth 30-save season while going 5-4 with a 3.26 ERA.
Setup relievers A.J. Minter (3-5, 3.84 ERA, 10 saves) and Kirby Yates (7-1, 2.70 ERA, five saves) are also thriving.
Offensively, the Braves have 10 hitters with double-figure homer totals. Five have hit at least 29 homers, including Matt Olson, who leads the majors with 51.
It's no wonder the Braves won the division, although manager Brian Snitker urged caution.
"We've checked just one box," Snitker said after his team's 6-1 division-clinching win over the host Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
The Braves have won a major-league-record 23 division titles -- three more than the Dodgers and four more than the Yankees -- and it will be interesting to see if they rests a few of their stars this weekend.
While the Braves were idle on Thursday, the Marlins lost 4-2 at the Milwaukee Brewers.
Miami lost three of four games in the series, scoring a total of five runs.
"We had traffic (on the bases)," Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said after Thursday's loss, "but we didn't score enough."
It doesn't help that Jazz Chisholm Jr. missed Thursday's game due to discomfort in his right knee.
The Marlins on Friday are set to start 37-year-old right-hander Johnny Cueto (1-4, 6.15 ERA). In 10 career starts against Atlanta, Cueto is 2-5 with a 3.82 ERA.
Miami is 2-7 this year with Cueto starting.
Cueto will surely focus on keeping the Braves from going yard, since they have already hit more homers this year than any team in National League history.
Olson has hit eight homers in his past 11 games. His 51 dingers match the franchise's single-season record set by Andruw Jones.
The Marlins, in the hunt for an NL wild-card berth, open a crucial nine-game homestand. It's their final regular-season set of home series -- against the Braves, New York Mets and Brewers.
Miami is powered by Luis Arraez, who leads the majors with a .349 batting average, and Jorge Soler, who as of Thursday was tied for seventh in the majors with 35 homers.
--Field Level Media