Pitch Perfect! Braves Move On To The NLCS To Face Dodgers

Fried, Anderson and Wright lead braves past the marlins for their first nlcs appearance since 2001

There is no official MVP for the NLDS, but if there were to be such an award, likely it would go to the trio of starters that took the mound for the Braves. The starting rotation has been a storyline in Atlanta all season for all the wrong reasons:

  • Cole Hamels signs for $18M, throws 3 1/3 innings due to injuries
  • Felix Hernandez signed for veteran depth, opts out of season
  • Mike Foltynewicz starts one game, sent to alternate site to gain weight and re-learn how to pitch
  • Sean Newcomb also relegated to alternate site after losing command of everything he threw
  • Mike Soroka ruptures his Achilles, out for season
  • Braves were the worst starting rotation in the NL for both ERA (5.51) and innings pitched (251.2)

Throughout the regular season the Braves tried every internal option imaginable to fill the rotation voids left by the above departures. Some worked; some didn’t. Some were a little of both. Max Fried has been a stalwart on the bump for the Braves all season and has been mentioned in the National League Cy Young conversation. Ian Anderson made his debut against the New York Yankees in the second half, holding the Bronx Bombers to 1 hit over 6 innings, and proved he was ready for the big stage. Others, specifically Tommy Milone, Robbie Erlin, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and, yes, Kyle Wright, all washed out of the rotation at one point or another due to the inability to command the strike zone or get beyond the third inning. There were legitimate concerns how the Braves would navigate a post season series with no days off with only two pitchers.

Of all the pitchers sent to the alternate training site, Kyle Wright seemed to be the pitcher most motivated to make the adjustments necessary to regain the confidence of the front office and Brian Snitker and get another shot at the rotation.

  • August – 3 games, 0-2 5.11 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 9 K and 13 BB
  • September – 4 games, 2-1 3.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 18k and 8 BB

The obvious adjustment for Wright was to move to the extreme 1st base side of the rubber, giving his fastball a better angle in to RH batters and improving some of the command issues he had been experiencing with that pitch. In those 4 September starts, Wright gave Snitker every reason to believe that those adjustments were real and that he was capable of filling that all-important third spot in the rotation for the playoffs.

If you believe the old adage that great pitching beats great hitting, you felt justified after the Reds series. Their two starters put a cast iron lock on the Braves vaunted offense with Bauer shutting out the Braves for 7 2/3rds and Castillo holding them to one run over 5 1/3rd. Finally the Braves went to work in the 8th inning of game 2, scoring 4 runs in that frame to close out the series and provide some much-needed confidence to their anxiety-riddled fanbase. Fried and Anderson pitched extremely well in those two games, matching pitch-for-pitch with the Reds starters, but of course the Reds were literally the worst offensive group in the playoffs this year. Could they do it against a better, and more familiar, opponent in the Marlins?

  • Game 1 – Max Fried – 4 IP, 4 runs, 4 k’s – Max just didn’t have it this game. Fortunately, the bullpen did, tossing up 5 scoreless innings and striking out 7. Braves offense broke out after Acuña was hit by a pitch and they went on to win 9-5.
  • Game 2 – Ian Anderson – 5 2/3 IP, 0 runs, 8 k’s – Anderson dominated the Marlins for just shy of 6 innings, holding them to three hits and a walk. Pablo Lopez kept the Braves stymied as well, but the bullpen again shut the door and made the two runs the Braves scored stand up.
  • Game 3 – Kyle Wright – 6 IP, 0 runs, 7 k’s – There seemed to be a lot of traffic on the bases early, but Wright had not pitched in 13 days and rust was to be expected. He got out of trouble twice in the first two innings and cruised through the remainder of the game in his first ever post season start.

We knew the Braves offense was a postseason offense. We knew that the bullpen was a post season bullpen. Fried, Anderson and Wright, after holding opponents scoreless in 27 out of 29 innings they pitched in, proved to everyone that they are, in fact, a postseason rotation. The Braves now head into the NLCS for the first time in 19 years, and they do so with what might be their most complete team since.

Sure, the Dodgers are the heavy favorites, but with the emergence of these young starters that don’t have enough experience to know that they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing right now, finally Atlanta is starting to get the respect they deserved all along.

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