If you asked Mike Foltynewicz, he’d probably choose to delete his forgetful 2019 from his memory, but it might be a turning point in his career. The Braves 2018 Ace began the season on the IL with an elbow issue. From his performance early, clearly, it was affecting him in some way when he returned. His velocity was down, and all of his offspeed pitches were as flat as Kyrie Irving’s earth, resulting in a demotion to Gwinnett. I’m not sure what the Stripers are feeding their players, but every Brave that seems to come from there shows up a better player. The same can be said for Folty, who has improved each time he toes the mound, and that trend continued tonight in New York.
Anytime you’re up against Jacob DeGrom; the pressure to prevent runs from crossing the plate is at an all-time high. Many times all the 2018 Cy Young award winner needs is one, and it was a vintage DeGrom performance on Friday night. There was a stretch where he struck out eight straight Braves heading into the sixth inning, but Atlanta was finally able to breakthrough when Freddie Freeman was at the plate with Ozzie Albies standing on second. After falling behind 1-2, Freeman worked the count to 3-2 before singling up the middle to give the Braves a lead. That tells you just how terrific Folty was.
High Foltage, as the nickname said on the back of his jersey, only allowed one hit going into the six with four strikeouts. The Braves desperately needed a shutdown inning, but who else but Jacob DeGrom would lead off the inning with a home run. It was the second homer of the year for the pitcher that has a better batting average than Tyler Flowers since May. Folty didn’t let it rattle him; however, he retired the next three batters in order, walked one in the seventh but then struck out Juan Lagares to end his best start of his season. It was the first time all year he pitched past the sixth inning, and you could see the sigh of relief after his final pitch as if he just realized – I’m back.
Since returning to Atlanta about a month ago, Foltynewicz has looked like a completely different pitcher. He was magnificent for five innings against a potent Twins lineup before allowing two home runs in the sixth. Then battled back fantastically versus the Marlins after allowing three runs in the first and followed that with a grind-it-out performance against the Dodgers. However, none of them were as dominant as the way he pitched tonight, allowing only two hits while striking out seven in seven innings.
Unfortunately, the Braves couldn’t get him a win. It was a battle of the bullpens the rest of the way, and both of them performed admirably. The game went 14 innings, and the Mets had two golden opportunities to score. They loaded the bases in the 10th with two outs, but Swarzak struck out Rosario to end the inning. Then, courtesy of two wild pitches from Sean Newcomb, New York had a runner at third with one out, but Newcomb was able to strike out Michael Conforto and force Aaron Altherr to groundout weakly to the shortstop. Meanwhile, the Mets bullpen added thirteen more punch outs, pushing the Braves total to 26, which was a franchise record for both sides.
Finally, in the 14th inning, Atlanta broke through with a single by the newly acquired Billy Hamilton. Mark Melancon came in to shut the door and did so perfectly, giving the Braves their sixth straight victory and keeping them six games up in the division. But the real story tonight was Mike Foltynewicz, who looked the best he’s looked since late last year. If this is what he’s going to be the rest of the way, the Braves – all of a sudden – might have the most complete rotation in the National League.
Acuña joins the 30/30 club
With so many games remaining, it was a foregone conclusion Acuña was going to join the 30/30 club; it was just a matter of when. He did so tonight in the eighth inning, swiping his 30th bag. Acuña is now four home runs and ten steals away from joining perhaps the most exclusive fraternity in all of sports – the 40/40 club – which only has four members. He has 32 games to do so, and my money is on it happening.