The Atlanta Braves were without 80 percent of their projected starting rotation for roughly 80 percent of the regular season, and they’re playing in the National League Championship Series this week.
Mike Soroka, who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting last season while recording a 2.68 ERA, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in early-August; Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, two of the Braves’ top starters from 2018, were optioned to the team’s alternate site due to performance; free agent signee Cole Hamels made just one start this season due to injury; free agent signee Felix Hernandez opted out of the 2020 Major League Baseball season; Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel departed Atlanta last offseason
The Braves finished 35-25, good for first place in the NL East. Thus far, they’ve swept the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins in the playoffs. Furthermore, they didn’t surrender a run to the Reds over 22 innings and held the Marlins to five runs over three games.
Atlanta is flexing its farm muscles.
Albeit he was a steady force on the hill in 2019, Max Fried didn’t provide much to signify that he was a star in the making. When he became the team’s number-one starter two weeks into the season, the Braves looked doomed; it turns out they were actually in store for the development of an ace.
Across 11 regular season starts, Fried posted a 2.25 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while holding opponents to a .211 batting average. Prior to a shaky Game 1 outing against the Marlins, Fried silenced the Reds in Game 1 of the Wild Card round, tossing seven shutout innings.
The left-hander has found success by means of catching hitters off-guard, inducing weak contact. He gets considerable movement on his curveball and slider and mixes up the equation with a low 90s heater. Fried has endured linear growth and become the headman of Atlanta’s pitching staff.
Anderson was superb in the regular season, posting a 1.95 ERA and 41 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .172 batting average across six starts. He has been even better in the playoffs. Across 11.2 innings he’s yet to surrender a run.
The right-hander has a simplistic pitching arsenal: four seamer, changeup, and curveball. He locates well, is efficient, and appears to be the latest wonder on the farm for the Braves.
Wright was roughed up in the regular season, finishing with a 5.21 ERA across eight starts. With that said, he has a consistent five-pitch arsenal (sinker, slider, four seamer, changeup, and curveball) which, with improvement, can help him become a multi-dimensional starter.
Wright tossed six shutdown innings in the Braves’ closeout Game 3 matchup with the Marlins last week and surrendered just two runs over his last 13 innings pitched in the regular season. Perhaps he’s getting hot at the right time?
Running parallel to the Braves rotation picking up the slack is their bullpen; it has been far more reliable than years past. Shane Greene, A.J. Minter, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, and Grant Dayton have all been capable late-inning relievers for manager Brian Snitker. Plus, Will Smith has thrown 4.1 shutout innings without surrendering a baserunner in the postseason.
Imagine what a healthy and fully robust Braves rotation looks like in a year: Fried, Soroka, Anderson, Wright, and Foltynewicz. Even if Soroka doesn’t make it back to the hill in the first half of next season — or the season as a whole — this is a rotation with upside and arms that are getting postseason experience under their belt.
This grouping isn’t going anywhere, and for an organization that has been resistant towards paying those from the outside lengthy contracts, the in-house developments are crucial. The offense has been there for the better part of the last five years: it has been a matter of establishing a reliable rotation.
This rotation isn’t better than last year’s based merely on health. At the same time, a full-blown version of these starters could be just as impactful. Maybe Foltnewicz and Newcomb make the big-league roster next season with one of them coming out of the bullpen?
The 2020 Braves are what happens when you’re patient and put an emphasis on developing young players: you get depth and a starting-caliber roster in the minor leagues. When injuries present themselves, you have the raw talent to manufacture runs/innings for a couple weeks. In a 60-game season, those couple weeks are a fourth of the season.
Regardless of whether they were the more proven and talented team, the Braves had their way with the Reds and Marlins and are yet to lose a game in the playoffs. That is good.
The Atlanta Braves have habitually held on to their top prospects and therefore possessed one of the best farm systems in baseball. That pattern has paid off this season. There aren’t many teams that could pull this off.