Touki Touissant, who has gone from an afterthought before the season to arguably the Braves second-best pitcher in their rotation over the span of a month, took the mound in Atlanta Monday night against the Washington Nationals. And he reminded us of one thing — the Braves still can’t trust any starter outside of Max Fried.
The first time through the rotation without Mike Soroka provided some promise. Max Fried was his typical dominant self. Sean Newcomb put together his best start of the season. Touki Toussaint struck out a career-high nine batters with no walks in the most impressive outing of his young career. And Kyle Wright added 3.1 scoreless innings of work against the Mets. Unfortunately, none of that has proven to be sustainable.
The next time Sean Newcomb took the mound, he surrendered eight earned runs while recording just four outs. Before the night was over, the Braves decided to option him to AAA Gwinnett, where he joined Mike Foltynewicz.
Toussaint’s encore performance wasn’t as bad as Newk’s, but it wasn’t pretty either. He gave up six runs (five earned) in just four innings against the Yankees, yet somehow still looked like the second-best pitcher on the Braves staff. The same can’t be said after his most recent performance on Monday. Toussaint walked six batters in just three innings, giving up four earned runs while only allowing two hits — the kind of outing that perfectly sums up how the Braves rotation, outside of Max Fried, has looked all season.
Still, Atlanta found a way to survive, thanks to a combination of an unbelievable bullpen and timely hitting, which was the case today. The Braves bats were working all night, collecting thirteen hits and six walks, but they failed to break through with runners in scoring position, leading to a three-run deficit going into the bottom of the ninth. But as we’ve seen time and time again over the last three seasons with the Braves, the game isn’t over until the 27th out is made.
Adam Duvall cut the lead to one with a line drive home run just over the left-field wall, bringing in Nick Markakis. Johan Camargo followed it with a single, but back-to-back strikeouts by Adeiny Hechavarria and Ender Inciarte left Dansby Swanson as the Braves final hope. After taking a first-pitch ball, Swanson showed off that opposite-field power that has taken his game to the next level over the last two seasons, lifting a ball 416 feet over the right-center field fence and giving the Braves a 7-6 win.
Atlanta currently holds sole possession of first place in the NL East, one game ahead of the Marlins. Their 14-10 record also gives them at least a 2.5 game lead over the rest of the division, who are probably much more significant threats to them in the long run. With all due respect to what the Marlins have done this far, they should eventually crumble and sink to the back of the pack. However, I’m not sure how long the Braves will be able to hold off the rest of their division rivals with so many questions regarding their rotation, and two of their best bats on the IL.
Max Fried’s been fantastic, posting a 3-0 record and 1.24 ERA through five starts this season. The Braves know they have a star in him, but he will eventually experience some regression, meaning other arms will have to step up. To this point, that just hasn’t happened, and the rest of the rotation has provided no reason to believe a breakthrough is close.
We might have seen the last starts for Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltwynewicz in a Braves uniform. Toussaint and Wright have the talent to be in the top half of the rotation, but it’s overwhelmingly apparent they are not ready. Huascar Ynoa isn’t a starter… neither is Robbie Erlin, and its evident that Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t feel any of the prospects are ready to offer more than what the Braves already have.
It’s a bleak situation with no obvious solutions. But if it doesn’t improve, I don’t see how the Braves find a way to capture their third straight NL East title.