Sunday evening, Max Fried pitched a beautiful five shutout innings en route to a sweep of the Braves doubleheader against the Phillies. It wasn’t his best outing of 2020. There were a couple of stressful innings, causing his pitch count to run high, which eventually chased him out of the game a little earlier than he would have liked. But he still picked up his third win of the season and lowered his ERA to 1.66.
Following the injury to Mike Soroka on Monday, it was fair to believe the only chance the Braves had in a seven-game series in October would be if Fried could take the mound five times. However, after one time through the rotation without Soroka, there are four reasons why the Braves could still contend with baseball’s elite come the postseason.
Max Fried started the game right after Soroka’s injury, and Sean Newcomb followed him, looking the best he has all season. The southpaw still let his pitch count run a little high, forcing him out after just 4.2 innings, but he was attacking the strike zone early and ended with only one walk. Had Ender Inciarte made a makeable sliding catch in center to end the fifth inning, he would have become just the third Braves pitcher to make it through five frames, doing so while allowing just one run. Still, it was something to build off of. Newcomb has the ability to break out just like Max Fried has over the last year, but he must keep pounding the strike zone and trust his stuff.
On Thursday night, it’s possible we witnessed the first young Braves pitcher — not named Mike Soroka or Max Fried — turn the corner. After tossing four innings of shutout ball in his first start against the Mets, Toussaint followed it up by striking out a career-high nine in 6 2/3 innings. He did allow three runs but only four hits, so he was a bit unlucky.
It was unquestionably the best Toussaint’s looked in his young career. His fastball, curveball, slider, and splitter were all plus-offerings. And when you can throw four pitches at any moment with confidence, it’s almost impossible — even for major leaguers — to hit. Trusting your stuff is critical for young arms; we’ll see just how confident he is this week in New York against the Yankees.
The Braves were rained out on Friday, pushing back Wright’s start a day, but he delivered the best outing of his young major league career. Outside of one inning, where he allowed four runs off two homers, he didn’t allow a run in any of the five other frames. And perhaps the best part about his outing was how he bounced back in the fifth and six after the Phillies knocked him around a bit in the fourth, something he has yet to do in any of his other starts. With Wright, the talent is undeniable, but he’s going to have to grow up quickly for the Braves to rely on him down the stretch and into the postseason.
Huascar Ynoa and the bullpen
Ynoa received the start in place of Mike Soroka; however, I’m not sure they view him as a full-time starter since they only let him go 2 1/3 innings while throwing around 50 pitches. He looked promising, though, showing much more control with his offerings, so we’ll see if the Braves opt to stretch him out going forward. Either way, Atlanta should be just fine because their bullpen has been immaculate.
Going on three weeks into the season, the Braves only have two relievers with an ERA higher than 2.50 — Luke Jackson (2.70) and Grant Dayton (2.89). Everyone else has an ERA of 2.25 or below, and four pitchers have yet to give up an earned run — not including Chad Sobotka or Will Smith, who have only combined for four appearances but have also not conceded a run. The Braves have the luxury of turning to Huascar Ynoa and the bullpen every fifth start until they find the right rotation combination. It will also help that they have a few off days coming up, which will allow them to go to a four-man rotation with regular rest a couple of times over the next month. And soon enough, Cole Hamels, who can be lifted off the IL on 9/6, could be ready to contribute.