The Braves took three out of four against the Washington Nationals, giving them 100 wins for the second consecutive season, the first time they’ve done that since 2002-2003.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 25, 2023
The Braves’ magic number to clinch home field advantage throughout the entire postseason is now down to three. With six games to play, they have a three-game lead over the Orioles for MLB’s best record and a 3.5-game lead over the Dodgers in the National League. They also own the tiebreaker over both teams.
Despite all of that good, things don’t exactly feel spectacular around Braves Country. The team recently placed two of their top starting pitchers on the IL, already ruling out Charlie Morton for the NLDS with a right index finger sprain. The most important goal for the Braves over the final month of the season was to stay healthy, and unfortunately, they are staring an all too familiar situation right in the face as October approaches.
Last season, the Braves completed a magical chasedown of the Mets, winning 101 games and their fifth straight NL East title. People always like to talk about how “hot” teams win in October, yet nobody entered the postseason hotter than the Atlanta Braves. They were a juggernaut for four straight months, yet they were bounced in the NLDS by the Phillies because of two critical injuries to their top starting pitchers.
Max Fried was battling an illness, causing him to lose 15 pounds ahead of his Game 1 start. He tried to gut it out, but it was evident he wasn’t right. The same can be said for Spencer Strider. An oblique injury caused him to miss the end of the season, but the Braves included him on the NLDS roster and started him in Game 3. He looked good for the first couple of innings, but he was out of gas by the third, and the Phillies took full advantage.
The hope is that Max Fried will be a full go by the time this year’s NLDS rolls around, but that’s far from a guarantee. This is an issue that has persisted throughout his entire career. We know Morton will be out, which likely means Bryce Elder will toe the rubber in Game 3. That’s not ideal, but I would rather have a fully healthy Elder on the mound than Morton try to pitch with discomfort. That didn’t work out too well for the Braves last time around.
The situation is unfortunate, but one player did not make the Atlanta Braves baseball’s best team in 2023. Guys have had to step up all season, particularly in the rotation with Max Fried and Kyle Wright injured, and they’ll have to do so again in October. Nobody is going to feel sorry for them, because this is still a roster capable of getting the job done in the playoffs.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire