With the red-hot Phillies right on Atlanta’s heels, something has to change for the Braves. Unfortunately, Kyle Wright got touched up in his last start. It was encouraging that he wasn’t walking as many batters, but it’s clear there’s still some disconnect with him.
I already talked about how the team could restructure the traditional rotation and how they could also approach the opener strategy they seem very keen on. In those articles, I was very adamant about letting the young guys get reps. That’s changed.
I still think letting Wright pitch is the correct move, but Touki is out of the question. As much as I love Patrick Weigel, he got shelled in his only appearance — he’s not ready. Max Fried’s injury doesn’t seem serious, and he should be back sooner rather than later — potentially next week.
Regardless, the offense was absolutely dead against Sixto Sanchez last night, and it was very concerning. If this team is going to advance past the first round for the first time in almost 20 years, here’s what has to happen.
Get Ozzie Albies back in a rhythm
Let’s start with the obvious. This bullet was initially about getting Albies back in general, but the team announced today he was activated as I wrote this. It’s not a surprise to see Camargo demoted; his effort was putrid.
Albies is a welcome addition back. Camargo has a .611 OPS in 120 ABs while Adeiny Hechavarria is sitting at a .572 OPS in 41 ABs. Props to these guys for stepping up for an injured player, but they aren’t cutting it. Not only does Ozzie have an elite bat, but he’s also a spark-plug that brings energy to the park every day. Camargo’s effort does little to inspire, and Albies’ absence is a substantial reason why this team has come to an offensive halt at times.
Call up Cristian Pache and stop starting Ender Inciarte
Look, I’ve beat this drum for a long time now, so I’ll keep it brief. Statistically, Max Fried hit better in 2019 than Ender has in 2020. Since the 1994 strike, Inciarte has posted the 2nd lowest wOBA in a single season, better than only Chris Davis’ legendary horrible 2018 campaign (.239). Davis started the 2019 season on an 0-33 slump and had gone 210 days without a hit.
It says a lot that Ender’s performance is comparable to a guy who hit .168 over 162 games. Pache has already gotten a taste of Major League action once, and he collected a hit in his only appearance. His defense is 80-tool, which is (I guess?) the appeal of giving Ender starts. Brian Snitker has to make the call and play this kid.
Call up Mike Foltynewicz
Please don’t be mad at me. It’s come to this. A first-place team is riding on the hope of a resurgence from a guy who threw less than four innings before being DFA’d. However, it seems he’s in the team’s plans.
GM Alex Anthopoulos said of Fotlynewicz: "He continues to work extremely hard, but it’s hard for me to put any type of expectations at this point. He’s doing everything he can, his work ethic has been off the charts."
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 8, 2020
Foltynewicz not showing up ready for the season was very disappointing, but at this point, what other option does the team have? He could possibly make up to three starts, and maybe the Braves will get a “second half Folty” performance as they saw in 2019.
Folty dominated in five September starts last season, only allowing five earned runs in 30 innings while striking out 26 and issuing just six walks. He was a significant reason the Braves held off the surging Nationals while securing the division title. I don’t think anyone will ever forget Game 5 of the NLDS, but Folty is one of the Braves’ only hopes at this point. If he still doesn’t have it, it may be time to press the panic button.
Stretch out Cole Hamels
Like relying on a guy who was DFA’d in 2020, depending on a 36-year-old who hasn’t thrown a pitch since September 28th of last year is not ideal. Luckily for Atlanta, Hamels may be activated next week.
Another benefit is that he isn’t a Mike Foltynewicz; Hamels is a seasoned pro and one of the most consistent arms in the game. The 2008 World Series MVP may have frustrated many fans with his shoulder woes, but I’m crazy excited to see what he can bring to the Braves. His 2019 ERA of 3.81 is on par with his career 3.42 ERA, and hopefully getting Fried back as well can provide the 1-2 punch the Braves have been missing since Mike Soroka’s catastrophic injury.
I still have faith in Hamels. If he’s effective, I’d like him back on another one-year (much cheaper) deal in 2021. He could be the guy that saves the season and pushes the Braves into the playoffs.
Put their best foot forward with openers
It’s perfectly reasonable to expect Hamels and Folty to falter. If Atlanta is going to continue using openers, I highlighted who I’d like to see fill these roles.
Robbie Erlin cannot continue to go out there and flail. Tomlin has been a decent band-aid, but he’s hit or miss. Jacob Webb looked dominant last night in his first appearance in 14 months, and it may be time to give him some looks starting games, getting through the team’s lineup twice. He started in college, so I think he can handle some extended work if he’s fully healthy.
Will Smith has struggled, but he could also be a viable option to throw 2-3 innings before handing the game over to Minter, Martin, Greene, Melancon & company. Luckily for Atlanta, as bad as the rotation has been, the bullpen is upper echelon. Without the pen this season, the Braves wouldn’t be sniffing 1st place.
As tragic as Folty’s playoff performance was last season, he was almost out of that inning with minimal damage. Almost doesn’t count in baseball, but you have a fighting chance with Fried, Hamels (and his career 3.41 ERA in 100.1 playoff innings), Folty, and a solid opener. Ian Anderson has shown tons of promise, but he may not be ready for a playoff game. He could be a great opener or take over the role Max Fried filled in the 2019 postseason. It’s not ideal, but when your co-ace goes down, you have to work with what you have.
As much of a disaster as this season has been, the Braves haven’t stopped winning games. Marcell Ozuna, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr., Nick Markakis, Travis d’Arnaud, and Adam Duvall have kept this offense afloat and shouldered the team, as the starting staff has floundered. These tweets sum up Atlanta’s woes in 2020:
Braves starters have now completed four innings or less in 23 of 42 games (54.8%). They've completed less than five innings in 26 of 42 games (61.9%).
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) September 9, 2020
Max Fried and Ian Anderson are 8-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 starts, while nine other Atlanta starters have a a combined 7.67 ERA in 30 starts and a 1-10 record (1-11 barring a big Braves comeback tonight). Those nine average 3 2/3 innings per start.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 9, 2020
Replacing Inciarte and Camargo in the lineup is crucial. One of those problems has already been remedied. However, pitching reigns supreme in the postseason. Throwing a hail mary with Folty & Hamels is the last resort for this club — but they’re at that point. There are no other options.
Davidson, Weigel, and Muller have thrown roughly a combined 30 innings at AAA. They aren’t ready for a postseason push. If Folty hasn’t improved and if Hamels is ineffective/injured, this team will likely miss the postseason or be bounced in the first round. Alex Anthopoulos failed to add an arm at the deadline or give any prospects not named Ian Anderson meaningful innings. It’s too late for all that now. Philly is 1.5 games back, the Marlins only trail by 2.5 games, and the Braves World Series aspirations are looking dimmer by the day.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire