When it comes to the Braves starting rotation, abysmal luck and questionable pitching development have plagued this unit the entire 2020 campaign. Luckily, the offense and bullpen have been able to pick up the slack, but for Atlanta to win anything this season, they have to find some reliable production from their starting pitchers, and Max Fried’s return may just be the final piece to the puzzle.
The Braves rotation issues began before Spring Training, when Cole Hamels found himself on the 45-day IL with tricep tendinitis, already his second injury before even pitching for Atlanta. The woes continued when Mike Soroka tore his Achilles in a freak non-contact injury while trying to cover the first base bag. Then it was the Braves failure to develop their young arms that kept rearing its ugly head.
It began with Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, two arms that should be fully developed right now and were supposed to be critical pieces to Atlanta’s rotation. However, they combined to make five starts and throw 17 innings before being demoted to the team’s alternate site. The Braves then turned to some of their highly-touted prospects, but young arm after young arm failed to throw more strikes than balls until they finally called up Ian Anderson — their top-rated prospect in their system.
Anderson was the first sign of hope for the Braves rotation outside of Max Fried. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his MLB debut against the Yankees, outdueling Gerrit Cole for the win. Anderson hasn’t slowed down since, either. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in four starts on the year — good for 1.2 WAR. However, just as Anderson began to emerge as a legit #2, the Braves lost Max Fried to back issues.
Luckily, Fried’s 10-day stint on the IL was only precautionary, and the Braves expect him back to his typical self when he makes his return tonight against the Mets at Citi Field. If that’s the case, Atlanta might finally have a bit of stability in their rotation, just in time for the postseason.
While Fried was gone, Cole Hamels made his Braves debut. He only went 3.1 innings, but most importantly, there were no setbacks, and he looked pretty good for a 36-year-old that had not pitched in nearly an entire calendar year. With two more starts scheduled before the end of the regular season, the Braves hope he will be fully stretched out for the playoffs, where he has thrived in his career.
If you had told the Braves four weeks ago they would have three options in their rotation that they would be comfortable with in a playoff series, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. With Fried back in the fold, they might even have more than that. Both Kyle Wright and Huascar Ynoa delivered promising performances their last time out, and there’s still the off-chance that we see Mike Foltynewicz or Sean Newcomb down the closing stretch. It’s far from a perfect situation, but with Atlanta’s lineup and bullpen, they should feel plenty confident heading into October.