No reason to beat around the bush: the Braves let Game 1 get away from them. From the start, they had a favorable matchup to go up 1-0 in the series. Atlanta scored first; they took a two-run lead late in the game, and then, like all teams from this cursed city seem to do, they imploded.
Luke Jackson gave up a home run to Paul Goldschmidt to start the eighth inning after Chris Martin left with an oblique injury. Martin, who has been one of the critical relievers for the Braves since being acquired at the trade deadline, is not expected to return for the remainder of the NLDS, which would also – by rule – keep him out of the NLCS if the Braves were to advance.
In Martin’s place, Julio Teheran is now a part of the active roster. The Braves plan is to use Max Fried more in relief and keep Teheran on standby as the potential starter for Game 4. However, Dallas Keuchel did not throw too many pitches last night, so I would expect him to be ready if the Braves make it to a fourth game, meaning Teheran could be an option out of the pen as well. But none of that will likely matter; if Atlanta cannot take care of business today.
The Cardinals will send their ace to the mound, Jack Flaherty, who is undoubtedly the hottest pitcher in baseball. After a pedestrian first half of the season, in which he posted a 4.64 ERA, Flaherty responded with a sub-one ERA since the All-Star break (15 starts). He has 124 strikeouts in his last 99.1 innings pitched, and opponents are only hitting .142 off of him in that span. The Braves have a potent lineup, but if they want to head to St. Louis with this series tied at one apiece, they are going to need Mike Foltynewicz to be the man he’s been since the calendar turned to September.
The once estranged starting pitcher for the Braves has earned his way back to top-of-the-rotation consideration, which is why he is getting the start in Game 2. After Foltynewicz returned from a month and a half layoff in Gwinnett on August 6th, Atlanta won the next nine games he started. They did lose his last outing, but that was an abbreviated appearance after the Braves had already clinched the division a week earlier.
In September, Folty only surrendered five runs in five starts (three of those came in the aforementioned abbreviated final outing) – good for a 1.50 ERA. He’s striking out nearly a batter an inning, and opponents are slashing a measly .142/.196/.257 against him, as Foltynewicz has avoided hard contact and kept his walk numbers down.
This isn’t the same Folty that was the ace of the 2018 Braves’ pitching staff. He’s no longer touching 100 every three pitches and overpowering opponents, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a more complete pitcher. Foltynewicz still relies heavily on his slider, his changeup has been much better since returning, and he’s developed a nasty two-seam fastball that he loves working on both sides of the plate. His fastball remains in the high-90s, but it is his improved secondary pitches that have caused this sudden turnaround. He’s outdueled DeGrom and Nola; now, the Braves are going to need his best effort against Flaherty if they plan on reaching the NLCS for the first time since 2001.