Few lineups strike more fear into opposing pitchers than the Minnesota Twins. They are littered with 20 home runs guys from one to nine in the order – and they even have a few lying around on their bench. The Twins lead the majors in home runs by 21 over the Yankees this season, who have the benefit of playing half of their games in a little league park. Pitching against them is a daunting task for any rotation, but especially one that has been plagued with inconsistencies like the Braves.
Atlanta’s Ace, Mike Soroka, started in the first game. No matter the opponent – you know what you’re going to get out of the freshly turned 22-year-old. He’s going to throw strikes, go deep into the game, keep the ball in play, and never flinch in the face of adversity.
The Twins were able to string together a couple of hits in the fourth and score two runs followed by a solo shot in the fifth, but outside of that, Soroka was a surgeon on the mound. He wasn’t bothered by a few runs crossing the plate and completed seven full innings, giving the Braves an opportunity to win. It was another example of the rookie being mature far beyond his years, but at this point in the season, it is expected from Soroka. The following two games are what should have Braves fans feeling much better about the outlook of the rotation.
Mike Foltynewicz made his highly-anticipated return on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, it could not have come against a more challenging opponent. Folty’s Achilles’ Heel in 2019 has been the long ball, allowing 16 of them in just 11 starts. As aforementioned, the Twins crush baseballs. It was a veracious test that would show how far the former Ace had come during his stint in Gwinnett.
And he passed with flying colors.
His stats with the Stripers were admirable, but until he showed it on the big stage, nobody was going to believe Folty is back. Now people can start thinking about the possibilities. It wasn’t just the stat line, which didn’t even do Folty’s performance justice. It was the velocity, his hard-biting slider that he threw almost half the time, and perhaps most importantly, the way he carried himself. This was the Folty of old, and if he builds off of it, the rest of the National League is in trouble.
In the rubber match, Max Fried took the mound. He was following his best start since May in which he went six innings and allowed only one run against the Reds. Fried’s been reliable all season but has not been the guy who started the year looking like a potential top-of-the-rotation arm. Regression is expected, but the good ones always bounce back, and the firey southpaw has now put together back-to-back extraordinary outings.
For five innings, the Twins could not touch Fried. He was cooking his fastball in the high 90s and painting corners at will; while his curveball gave them fits all afternoon, leading to a season-high ten strikeouts. Finally, Minnesota’s offense woke up in the sixth for three hits, which led to Fried’s departure with the Braves leading 7-1. He now has a team-high 13 wins on the season.
Atlanta knows they have Keuchel and Soroka for a potential playoff series, but the options behind them are beginning to look sharper and sharper. Julio Teheran has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball since the calendar turned to May. We know about Folty’s potential; if he is indeed back as he appeared on Tuesday. And when Fried is on, he is untouchable. Combine this strengthening rotation with a revamped bullpen, and the Braves pitching staff is much more encouraging as we approach the stretch run.