Almost halfway through the season, the Braves sit atop the NL East by 1.5 games and are firmly in the playoff picture despite the misfortune they have had to overcome. It’s not a sure thing yet, but FanGraphs currently gives Atlanta a 91.9% chance of making the postseason and a 61.5% chance of winning the NL East for a third consecutive season. But if they want to win their first playoff series since 2001 and go even further, they need to find some answers to their rotation.
As I talked about after Sunday’s game, the Braves officially have a one-man rotation. Josh Tomlin and Robbie Erlin are relievers acting as starters. Neither of them is an answer to Atlanta’s problems. Kyle Wright was optioned to Gwinnett last week, and Touki Toussaint followed him today. Max Fried could be the NL Cy Young, but they will need a lot more than just him to succeed in the postseason.
It may seem impossible for the Braves to fix their rotation in time for a playoff run, but there are still several reasons to hope they can. It’s just going to take a marvelous job by GM Alex Anthopoulos.
The trade deadline will obviously be critical. As the Braves have been the past two seasons, they will be one of the more active teams. And to put it honestly, they don’t have a choice but to acquire at least one starting pitcher. It can’t just be an innings eater, either. Atlanta needs someone with the potential to be a #2 behind Max Fried, preferably an arm with postseason experience. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Anthopoulos added two starting pitchers before August 31st’s trade deadline — with one of them being a controllable asset with a high ceiling.
Over the next month, the Braves should also show no hesitation in giving some of their highly-touted prospects an opportunity. That has begun today, as they called up Ian Anderson to make his MLB debut against the Yankees. Hopefully, he can give the rotation a boost, but if he can’t, Atlanta could still allow arms like Tucker Davidson, Patrick Weigel, and Kyle Muller opportunities, hoping that one of them can catch fire.
They may not be the answers, however. Both Anderson and Davidson have made a combined nine starts for AAA Gwinnett. Muller hasn’t even made it to AAA yet, and while Weigel has plenty of experience with Gwinnett, a recent Tommy John surgery might not allow him to start this year. So if the Braves’ answers are going to come internally, they might have to come from somewhere else.
Luckily, Atlanta has other options too. Cole Hamels is scheduled to throw a bullpen this week and can come off the IL on September 6th. It’s not going to happen that early, but there’s a chance he’s ready and stretched out for the postseason, which would be a massive boost to the rotation.
Mike Foltynewicz isn’t completely out of the picture, either. The Braves are hoping that an increase in velocity will come from adding some weight, and the latest reports are that he is already up ten pounds since being DFA’d after just one start. There’s a chance he receives another opportunity before the season ends.
More #Braves pitching notes per AA: Cole Hamels expected to throw bullpen next wk. "He's feeling great & we think he's really turned the corner."
Folty has gained 10lbs, they've worked to strengthen his arm & legs. Team hopes to get him in SIM gm in Gwinnett by end of month.
— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) August 21, 2020
Of course, the Braves still have guys like Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, and Touki Toussaint. I would say these are the most unlikely candidates to improve the starting rotation at this point, but it’s not unfathomable that one or a couple of these players receive another chance.
By the end of the season, the Braves rotation should be much better, featuring at least one trade deadline addition and perhaps a couple of internal risers. Here’s what it could look like:
- Max Fried
- Lance Lynn (acquired from Rangers)
- Cole Hamels
- Mike Foltynewicz/another trade deadline acquisition (Kevin Gausman)
- Ian Anderson
It’s far from perfect, and it still might be one of the worst rotations among teams in the postseason. However, the Braves don’t need their starting pitching to carry them. Their offense is among the best in the National League, and their bullpen is elite. As long as they have a couple of guys behind Max Fried that can give the team some innings in a playoff series, they have a chance to win.