The Braves are smack-dab in the middle of another NL East title race. Following yesterday’s win, they are now 4.5 games ahead of the Phillies with 22 games left to play. It’s the most thrilling division title race of the last four years, and perhaps it’s just what the Braves need going into the playoffs, assuming they make it. There is something to playing with your backs against the wall going into the postseason that can give a team some much-needed preparation. It’s officially scoreboard watching time, but the battle for the NL East isn’t the only competition I’ll be keeping tabs with down the stretch.
Amid the Braves playoff race is a competition within the competition. For the last few months, Max Fried and Charlie Morton have established themselves as a two-headed monster at the head of the rotation. Their numbers over the entire season may not scream Ace, but anybody who has watched this team since the beginning of May is aware of just how dominant these two have been.
Charlie Morton’s numbers since May 7th: 128.1 innings, 3.04 ERA, 146 strikeouts, .198 batting average against, .582 OPS against
Max Fried’s numbers since May 5th: 125.2 innings, 2.72 ERA, 122 strikeouts, .222 batting average against, .620 OPS against
They’ve been as good as anyone in the game for most of the season after slow starts, and one question has been burning inside my head for a few weeks now. If the Braves were to start a playoff series today, who would get the ball in Game 1? Performance down the stretch and the potential matchup will likely play a huge part in this decision, but let’s take a look at each man’s case as of right now.
Morton checks all the boxes. He has experience closing out a World Series and has started 12 postseason games, leading to a 3.38 ERA. 11 of those starts have come in the last four seasons, as the 37-year-old veteran has only gotten better with age. His upper-90s fastball and curveball remain one of the most unhittable two-pitch combinations in baseball. It doesn’t matter which version of stats you want to look at; Morton is upper echelon. There are some better, but few as consistent. Every team should feel confident in a playoff game started by Morton.
Fried’s surface-level stats may compare to Morton’s, but his peripherals are a little more worrisome. There have definitely been times where he’s benefited from some luck or a good defense behind him. Still, when looking forward, this is the man expected to carry the Braves staff, and he’s no longer a kid anymore. Fried already has 12 postseason appearances himself (4 starts and 8 out of the bullpen), pitching to the tune of a 3.90 ERA. He’s also pitched his best when the pressure is the highest. In last year’s NLCS, Fried posted a 2.88 ERA over 12.2 innings against a loaded Dodgers lineup. I know wins are an overrated stat, but this is a guy with a bulldog mentality that always finds ways to get through innings, even if he doesn’t necessarily have his best stuff. It’s hard to imagine a Game 1 of a playoff series without Fried on the bump.
Gun to my head, I would probably start Morton if the Braves had a playoff game tomorrow. He’s just been so consistent over the last few months, and the eye test favors him. It’s unbelievable the way he’s tossing the ball so effortlessly at 37-years-old. However, as I said earlier, I do think a lot of it will come down to how these guys perform as the season comes to an end, which is why I will be monitoring them closely anytime they are scheduled to start.