Braves: There’s no questioning who the ace of the Braves staff is

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Max Fried and Charlie Morton have been 1A and 1B atop the Braves rotation for months now. So much so that there wasn’t a clear option for who would start Game 1 of a potential playoff series. But as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the situation would sort itself out down the stretch, and yesterday was another significant step in the direction of Max Fried, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since coming off the IL in early May.

In that month of May, Fried only allowed four earned runs in four starts. He followed it up with a topsy-turvy June and start to July, but things really began to click for him on July 17th — an outing in which he pitched seven scoreless innings against one of the best teams in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays. Since then, the 27-year-old lefty has been essentially unhittable, recording a sub-two ERA over his last 12 starts to go along with nine strikeouts per nine. The Braves have also won nine of those starts, but it’s even more than just the numbers; every time the Braves seem to find themselves in a must-win situation, Fried comes up with one of the best performances of his career. Yesterday was a perfect example of that.

Outside of Eddie Rosario, who hit for the cycle in just four at-bats, and Adam Duvall, who came up with another timely two-run shot, the Braves didn’t get much offense, but three runs would prove to be plenty enough. From the opening frame, it just had the feeling of one of those days for Max Fried. He retired the Giants in order and didn’t allow a hit until the third inning — one of only three singles San Francisco would register against Fried on the afternoon, and all of their hits were scattered across three innings. Just one time did the Giants even get into scoring position while Fried was on the mound, and he quickly shut down the threat by striking out Kris Bryant to end the inning.

Fried’s final line read 7 innings, 0 earned runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts on 99 pitches. It was a classic gem from a player who has proven to be one of the best pitchers in the game over the last two seasons. His ERA for 2021 is all the way down to 3.31, which is incredible considering how he started in April, posting an 11.45 ERA over three starts before hitting the IL. I’m not sure if that injury is what caused him to start so poorly, but it sure seems like that probably was the case. Since returning on May 5th, Fried has a 2.66 ERA over his last 23 starts.

I love Charlie Morton as much as anyone. He hasn’t missed a start and has been the most consistent arm on the staff from start to finish. Not to mention — if we’re talking about a potential Game 1 starter in a playoff series — Morton has loads of postseason experience and has even closed out Game 7 of the World Series. However, Fried has done more than enough to prove that he is the ace of the staff. When the lights are the brightest, that’s when he thrives. So if the Braves do end up wrapping up the NL East, there should be no debate about who gets the ball in Game 1. This is Max Fried’s team to lead.

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