Yesterday, I talked about the possibility of moving Mike Foltynewicz to the bullpen because the Braves will only need four starters come October. I also mentioned he has an outside chance of working his way back into the rotation, but he’d have to show he can go deeper into ball games. Folty did just that last night against the Phillies.
Ronald Acuña started the series off with a bang, blasting a rocket over the left-field wall that traveled over 400 feet for his 38th home run of the season. It was his 15th leadoff home run since last year’s All-Star break. Following the bomb, the Braves would load the bases with nobody out courtesy of two hits and a walk to Josh Donaldson. Unfortunately, a Matt Joyce double-play limited Atlanta to just two runs in the inning, but they would add two more in the second, as Albies and Freeman strung together back-to-back RBI singles, and that is all Foltynewicz would need.
High Foltage was on cruise control for the first four innings, setting the first 13 Phillies he faced down in order. Corey Dickerson broke up his perfect game with one out in the fifth by hitting a home run that probably only makes it out of Citizens Bank ballpark. Folty would settle down, however, striking out Juan Segura and forcing Adam Haseley to line out, ending the fifth inning. He would give up an infield single in the sixth, but nothing would come of it, and then Josh Donaldson broke the game open with a three-run blast the other way. Folty allowed one more hit in the seventh, but a strikeout of Corey Dickerson and a Juan Segura groundout concluded perhaps his best outing of the season.
You can make the argument Foltynewicz has not been as crisp as he was last year since returning from AAA Gwinnett – based on his struggles the third time through the order – but it is impossible to say he has not been effective. In seven starts, he has a 2.95 ERA, and the Braves have won all seven of those games. He’s been even better in his past five starts, posting a 1.91 ERA, and now he’s strung together a couple of outings like the one from last night. On August 23rd, he threw seven innings of two-hit ball, allowing one earned run as he outdueled Jacob DeGrom. Folty also tossed five innings of two-hit, shutout ball in his only other September start.
The emergence of Foltynewicz is going to lead to some gut-wrenching decisions for Brian Snitker. A few weeks ago, it didn’t even look as if Folty was going to make the playoff roster. Now, he seems like a lock, and Snitker is going to have to decide how he wants to use him.
Mike Soroka has been the most consistent pitcher in baseball the entire year – never surrendering more than four runs in a start. Dallas Keuchel – and his 0.87 ERA over his previous five outings – is penciled into the rotation. Max Fried has looked as crisp as ever, and the Braves have won the last nine games he’s started. If I had to guess it’s going to come down to Teheran and Folty for that fourth and final spot in the playoff rotation. I’ve already gone through what Folty has been able to do but leaving Teheran as the odd man out would almost seem criminal after the year he has had. Teheran has been the best starting pitcher for the Braves since the beginning of May, recording a 2.67 ERA, and the team has won 16 of the 23 games he has pitched.
Brian Snitker is going to have to mull over the upside of Foltynewicz or the consistency of Teheran, and part of that decision might have to do with who he thinks would best serve in a bullpen role if they were not starting. It’s a magnificent problem to have, and one I don’t think many Braves fans could have imagined at the beginning of the season when the rotation consisted of Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, and Kevin Gausman. Someone will be left out, but they are all deserving.