Roughly this time last year, the Braves were forced to prove their worthiness by defeating the Reds in the NL Wild Card game. Max Fried started that contest, pitching extremely well on his way to seven scoreless innings and five strikeouts. In fact, Fried was so sharp in that play-in game (and for all of 2020 for that matter), that Atlanta went with the lefty in Game 1 of the 2020 Division Series. Making his first career NLDS start versus the Marlins, Fried got hit around to the tune of four runs from six hits, and after four frames, he was done. Fortunately, though, his poor performance wasn’t detrimental as the Braves offense ended up breaking out for a dozen hits and three home runs. Fried didn’t necessarily pitch well enough to win, but the Atlanta lineup, as well as a five-man bullpen, picked him up for the 9-5 victory.
Obviously no offense to Fried here. He did go on to start two games in last year’s NLCS (Game 1 & 6) against the Dodgers, which featured 14 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. But this year, the Braves wield a bit more postseason experience for Game 1 of their NLDS. On Friday, 37-year-old Charlie Morton will do something he’s done a dozen times already, which is start a playoff game.
#Braves SP Charlie Morton Career in Division Series Games:
4 GS, 2-1 record, 20 IP, 6 ER (2.70 ERA), 25 K/10 BB
— Braves News Daily (@BravesNewsDaily) October 5, 2021
If you weren’t already aware, Morton has been here before. In fact, he’s been here before with three other teams prior to 2021, making playoff starts for all of the Pirates, Astros and Rays over the course of his 14-year MLB career. Hell, just look back to last October, when Morton made four crucial postseason starts for the Rays, in which he he won the first three in a row.
|ALDS (GM 3)||Yankees||5 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 6 K|
|ALCS (GM 2)||Astros||5 IP, 5 H, BB, 5 K|
|ALCS (GM 7)||Astros||5.2 IP, 2 H, BB, 6 K|
|WS (GM 3)||Dodgers||4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, BB, 6 K|
Experience obviously isn’t everything. I doubt the Brewers are all that concerned that their Game 1 starter — Corbin Burnes — only has nine career postseason innings under his belt (all as a reliever), especially considering he led the staff with a whopping 7.5 fWAR during the 2021 regular season and was the primary reason Milwaukee’s rotation ended the year as the second-best unit in the majors. However, as we witnessed with the Yankees Gerrit Cole in the AL Wild Card game earlier this week, the playoffs can be a totally different animal… even for the sport’s most dominant starting pitchers.
The point is, the fact that Morton is kicking off this upcoming NLDS gives me even more confidence in the Braves. The veteran pitcher won’t be able to contribute in all five of the possible games, but he can certainly help set the tone for the entire series if he goes out there Friday night and throws up some zeroes. As Chase shared in our staff NLDS predictions post on Thursday morning, Atlanta’s three playoff starters have actually been better than Milwaukee’s of late, sporting stingier numbers since August 1. As the starting rotation’s most consistent and experienced presence in 2021, Morton has a chance to keep that trend going for the Braves. Game 1 is super critical, but I’m glad we have the veteran to set the tone.