The beautiful month of October is nearly here, and the Braves will once again be a part of the festivities. They clinched the NL East last Friday and will be the #2 seed in the NL heading into the postseason. As of now, it looks like they will play the St. Louis Cardinals, as the Braves attempt to win their first playoff series since 2001. Yes, it’s been that long. However, for the first time in a while, they will enter the opening round as heavy favorites.
With Ender Inciarte set to return at the end of the week, there are still some roster decisions for Brian Snitker and company to iron out, but his most challenging move will be how to align this starting rotation.
Amazingly, the Braves starting pitching has gone from a revolving door of hopeful names to one of the most complete in the majors over the last couple of months. Mike Soroka has been the most consistent pitcher in the MLB, Max Fried leads the club in wins, the acquisition of Dallas Keuchel stabilized things, Julio Teheran found his mojo, and Mike Foltynewicz went from a complete mess to the pitcher who started in Game 1 of the NLDS last year. All of these arms deserve an opportunity to pitch in the playoffs, but the Braves only need three or at most four of them in their rotation come October.
We will start with who are the three pitchers that should take the bump in the first three games: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, and Dallas Keuchel. That should not be a debate. Where the debate begins is in what order?
I have Dallas Keuchel taking the mound in Game 1. Unlike the rest of the staff, he is littered with postseason experience, and there is a reason Alex Anthopoulos went out and paid the man to join the team. Keuchel’s also been lights out in his last eight starts, going 5-2 with a 2.06 ERA. There shouldn’t be much discussion about this.
Game 2 will go to one of the Mikes. You could make a case for Soroka in this game, and if it was a do or die matchup, that is who I am going with. However, since it isn’t, I’m riding the hot hand in Foltynewicz. Folty’s been the best pitcher on the staff for the last month-plus. He has a 1.19 ERA in his previous six starts and is holding opponents to a combined .447 OPS. However, the primary reason I’m rolling with him instead of Soroka is because of Soroka’s unbelievable numbers on the road.
The rookie has poise way beyond his years. He’s 7-1 with a 1.35 ERA in 15 starts away from home. That’s a weapon the Braves need to take advantage of; which is why – despite him being the best pitcher on the team this year – I would wait until they are on the road to throw him out there because he is the best-suited to lead the Braves to a win in that situation.
Game 4 will be another intriguing decision for Brian Snitker. If I am him, I’m taking the wait-and-see approach. If Dallas Keuchel or Mike Foltynewicz do not make it very deep into the game, I’d consider throwing them back out there in Game 4 over Max Fried or Julio Teheran. However, if I were to choose between Max Fried or Julio Teheran in the NLDS; I would go with Teheran because of his success against the Cardinals this season.
Teheran is 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA in ten innings versus the Redbirds this year. Max Fried also might be best utilized coming out of the bullpen during the postseason – at least in the opening series. The Braves have enough starting pitching to match up with the Cardinals but could use a lefty arm like Fried that can pitch nearly every night as he did in last year’s NLDS. He’s the only pitcher in this rotation with significant experience coming out of the pen and has thrived in those opportunities.
That’s how I believe Brian Snitker will handle it. He has his three top guys and will have the luxury to play the wait-and-see approach. If all goes well, the Braves win the series, and Mike Soroka can start Game 1 of the NLCS, which could be a rematch with the superteam in Los Angeles.