Ask any Braves fan, or anyone who tried to predict how the 2020 MLB playoffs might unfold, and they’ll tell you the primary concern about Atlanta was its pitching. The bullpen was solid during the abbreviated regular season, but that 5.51 ERA compiled by the Atlanta starters was ugly, like 28th-of-30-MLB-teams ugly.
And yet, here we are, four games deep into the NL postseason, and the Braves are 4-0 with three shutout victories. Maybe those fears were unfounded?
Let’s not jump to that conclusion just yet. Those first four games were started by the only two pitchers anyone in Atlanta would classify as “reliable” — Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Fried had a 2.25 ERA in his 11 starts during the regular season and Anderson had a 1.95 ERA, and they continued their strong seasons with three great starts (two from Anderson, one from Fried).
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
— 5.51 ERA (251 2/3 innings, 154 ER): All Atlanta starters
— 2.14 ERA (88 1/3 innings, 21 ER): Fried/Anderson combined
— 7.33 ERA (163 1/3 innings, 133 ER): Atlanta starters, minus Fried/Anderson
And so we have arrived, with the Braves holding a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NLDS against the Marlins, at the point where the concerns about Atlanta become an issue. They just need one more win to advance to the NLCS, but getting that win won’t be simple.
Kyle Wright, who fashioned a 5.21 ERA this season (and has a career 6.22 ERA in the bigs) gets the ball today in Game 3.
Braves fans will be quick to point out that he was really good down the stretch, allowing just two runs and three hits in his final two starts, covering 13 innings. Marlins fans will remember Wright’s two starts against their team, during which the right-hander gave up eight runs, nine hits and eight walks in just seven total innings.
If the Marlins win Game 3, the Braves will likely be looking at a bullpen-type effort in Game 4, started by either Josh Tomlin or Bryse Wilson. It’s worth pointing out that five Braves relievers — arguably their five best relievers — combined for five innings in Game 1 and four more — all four pitching for the second day in a row — threw in Game 2. If Game 3 goes poorly, it’s fair to wonder how much gas that outstanding bullpen will have for Game 4, right?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Atlanta rotation was supposed to be a strength in 2020. But veteran Felix Hernandez opted out over COVID concerns, and fellow veteran Cole Hamels — he of 100 1/3 career postseason innings with a 3.41 ERA — went down with an injury. Then Mike Soroka, the undisputed ace who finished sixth in the NL Cy Young vote last year, was lost for the season after only three starts. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, previously solid MLB pitchers, combined for a 12.18 ERA in five starts (one start for Folty, four for Newcomb).
But things so very rarely go according to plan.
We’re not saying the Braves are done, of course. That lineup is stacked, and the bullpen is not yet depleted. We’re just saying don’t be fooled by what’s happened thus far.
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