Friday MLB Odds, Picks, Predictions: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves Betting Preview (May 21)

Friday MLB Odds, Picks, Predictions: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves Betting Preview (May 21) article feature image

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images. Pictured: Gregory Polanco #25 of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

  • The Pirates and Braves meet Friday night for the second game in the teams' regular-season series.
  • Pittsburgh achieved a pivotal win in Thursday's matchup with Atlanta, and now the Braves' season seems somewhat imperiled.
  • Check out MLB analyst Kenny Ducey's betting preview below, which includes updates odds, expert analysis and Ducey's pick for Friday night's MLB matchup.

Pirates vs. Braves Odds

Pirates Odds+170
Braves Odds-195
Time7:20 p.m. ET
Odds as of Friday and via DraftKings.

The Braves find themselves on the wrong side of .500. Atlanta is suddenly staring down the barrel of a split or series loss to the Pirates after a thrilling win by Pittsburgh in extra innings on Thursday. The game demonstrated where both teams are at offensively, and with a slight edge in the pitching department on Friday, the Pirates may deserve a little more love here.

Let's break down the matchup and see if we can find some value in Friday night's contest.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Thursday night was a good one for the Pirates, who collected a whopping 12 hits en route to snapping a four-game losing streak with a 6-4 win in extras over the Braves. It was a nice reward for a team either scoring runs or hanging tough against good pitching over the last few games.

The main story was Adam Frazier, who stayed red-hot with his fifth multi-hit game in the last six for Pittsburgh. Three of Frazier's hits came off the bat at over 95 mph, giving him his fourth career game with three or more hard-hit balls.

Though the Pirates have not hit well as an entire unit over the past week, they can at least hang their hat on the fact that their best players have produced at the plate. Over that span, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds have both hit over .300, while catcher Jacob Stallings has been a surprise contributor with a .385/.385/.692 slash line, a homer and four RBIs.

Pittsburgh has a few legitimately dangerous bats in the lineup right now. That may not sound like much, but it's more than a lot other can teams can claim. It's also particularly depressing when you consider what the presence of the injured Colin Moran might do for this offense, which has been on the cusp of victory a few times lately but couldn't push across the finish line. That's what made Thursday's win a big one.

The Pirates are now in a real power spot, with a fantastic chance to take command of the series on the arm of Tyler Anderson, who has been their best pitcher aside from the promising J.T. Brubaker. Anderson allowed four runs last time out to the menacing Giants, but it was his first time allowing more than three in a game this season. His strikeout and walk rates have rebounded from a poor, and shortened, 2020 season to show real growth over his career.

This may be the best version we've seen of Anderson yet. His 38% hard-hit rate is the only alarming thing about his performance to date; it's way up from his career average of 30.7%. With the way he's been locating, you'd think that number would enjoy some positive regression.

Atlanta Braves

With the loss to the Pirates in extras on Thursday, the Braves have now lost seven of 10 and are teetering on the brink of fading into oblivion. Of course, there's plenty of season left. Furthermore, sitting fourth in the NL East at 20-24 is recoverable.

Nonetheless, the Braves cannot let this form continue much longer. Atlanta — and its fans — know the division it's up against. With plenty of untapped potential in the Mets, Phillies and Nationals, it's only a matter of time before one of them figures it out. The pressure is beginning to build for the Braves.

Focusing in on those last seven days, the Braves have put together at-bats that are less than ideal. They lead the league over that timeframe with a 31.2% strikeout rate. The Braves also rank middle of the pack in walk rate and sit second-to-last with a contact rate of 68.6%.

Meanwhile, Atlanta also ranks fourth in MLB with 11 homers since May 14, which demonstrates the team's pathetic reliance on the home run. That dependency on the long ball is reminiscent of the early-season Yankees. It's not as if hitting a lot of home runs is a bad thing, but it's certainly concerning when it's all that a team does, and it still won't produce wins. The Braves must stay disciplined at the plate to get back on track and capitalize on all of these home runs.

That might be the least of their problems though with young Ian Anderson getting the ball. After a spectacular debut season and postseason, the flamethrower has stumbled out of the gate in 2021, pitching to a 4.31 xERA. His hard-hit rate is up to an alarming 43.2%, and his strikeouts have decreased 4.4%.

Anderson showed some signs of life in his last outing against the lowly Brewers and should have a manageable task at hand with the Pirates. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a great pitcher for years, but at the moment things aren't looking great.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't say something about the Braves bullpen here, which was the goat of Thursday night's loss. Atlanta is finding it hard to trust any of its relief-pitchers, especially with Sean Newcomb struggling mightily and Jacob Webb losing all control when he takes the ball. This is yet another thing working against Atlanta.

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Pirates-Braves Pick

With trouble abound in Atlanta, the time is right once again to fade the Braves, even on the road. If this were Mitch Keller or Trevor Cahill getting the ball for Pittsburgh, I might be hesitant to play the Buckos, but with a pitcher as talented as Tyler Anderson on the hill, I see plenty of value here.

Anderson has struck out 13 batters in his last 13 innings. That type of swing-and-miss stuff will be a knockout punch for a Braves lineup struggling so mightily with punch-outs. It's also worth noting that Atlanta ranks 23rd in wRC+ against southpaws, making this matchup even juicier.

I believe in the Pirates' unexpected heroes at the dish, and you should too. Ian Anderson's struggles are real at the moment, and he doesn't deserve this kind of line.

Pick: Pirates ML (+170)

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