Mike Foltynewicz’s 2019 has been perhaps the craziest roller coaster ride I have ever witnessed in such a short span. The 2018 Folty was the Ace of the Braves staff. His ERA sat below three, and he made his first All-Star Game thanks to a breakout campaign. However, when push came to shove in the playoffs, Foltynewicz wasn’t quite ready for the bright lights. He was less than stellar not once but twice against the Dodgers, ultimately leading to the Braves elimination, but the future of the hard-throwing right-hander remained as bright as ever.
Until it didn’t.
Foltynewicz’s 2019 began with an injury. It was a minor elbow issue, but it kept him out of spring training and forced him to miss most of April. When he finally did return, he looked nothing like himself.
His fastball velocity was down a few miles per hour. The slider that made him an All-Star was a floating frisbee as it approached the middle of the plate, and anytime he threw his changeup, the necks of the Braves’ faithful suffered the consequences as rockets flew out of the yard. Not to mention, he was constantly shaking out his arm and feeling his elbow. It was impossible not to ponder the idea of “maybe Foltynewicz was just a one-hit-wonder.”
By now, we all know the story. Folty was so abysmal – that despite all the chances the Braves gave him – he still wound up in Gwinnett, and not for a short time either. He stayed there for six weeks, and after a while, things began to turn around for him with the Stripers. But nothing would be confirmed until he proved once again he could do it at the major league level.
On August 6th, Folty made his highly anticipated return to the Atlanta Braves, and the organization didn’t hesitate to throw him right back into the fire. His first opponent – the Minnesota Twins – who only racked up a major league record 307 home runs this season. But Folty shut them down for five scoreless innings of nearly perfect baseball. His fastball velocity was up sightly (not near where it was in 2019 though), the slider had it’s bite back, and he even threw a few quality changeups. It was only one game, but there was a reason for optimism.
Folty continued to put quality starts together over the next month. However, there was a common trend in each one of his outings. The first two times through the order, he was dominant. After that, he faltered. Then Septemeber came.
Foltynewicz’s September is one he will always remember. He officially shook off all the cobwebs. Not only was he back, but he was even better than his 2018 self, despite not being able to throw as hard. 2019 taught him how to become a more complete pitcher – not just a hard-throwing, two-pitch specialist. He added a nasty two-seam fastball to his repertoire and isn’t afraid to turn to his changeup more often. It all culminated in an eight-inning masterpiece, where he shutout the San Francisco Giants to clinch the division, bringing his 2019 full circle. The win lowered his ERA to 0.69 in the month.
For more proof that the 2019 version of Folty is his best self, look no further than Game 2 of the NLDS. The Braves had their backs against the wall, facing the Cardinals Ace, who had a 0.91 ERA in the second half of the season, and Foltynewicz went blow-for-blow with him for seven innings, shutting out the Cards and allowing only three hits.
Now, the Braves will turn to him in a winner-take-all Game 5. It’s almost unfathomable that this situation has presented himself after where Folty was at just two months ago. And the craziest part about it, he’s the exact person I want on the mound in this situation. This rollercoaster ride seems to have taken some pressure off of him, and he genuinely looks like he’s enjoying the game more. I expect him to come out with poise and deliver a marvelous performance. Whether it will be enough to outduel Jack Flaherty again; who knows? But I do know this version of Folty, is the best version of Folty we have ever witnessed.
And I’m ready to ride or die with him. LET’S DO THIS!