The Braves have one of the best problems a major league ball club can have: having too many quality starters to make an easy decision as to who should be in the playoff rotation. But if I am Brian Snitker, I may not even make this decision by next Thursday, when the NLDS kicks off.
The first three spots seem easy.
Dallas Keuchel should get the nod in Game 1. He has been fantastic at home this season and has lightyears more playoff experience than any other member of the rotation. Historically he has gone 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 playoff appearances, and this year at home, he has a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts.
Mike Foltynewicz has experienced a return to form, and then some. He is the hottest Braves starter right now which should give him the nod for game 2.
Mike Soroka has been the best pitcher on this staff over the course of the season but has a 1.35 ERA on the road compared to a 4.14 ERA at home. At just 22 years of age, throwing Soroka in a game 3 takes the pressure off him and will be a matchup nightmare for the opposing team.
But what happens after that? The Braves still have two quality starters in Julio Teheran and Max Fried. I say use a wait and see approach.
Fried was absolutely phenomenal last season out of the bullpen in the playoffs against the Dodgers, who are also the likely opponent for Atlanta if they advance, something Brian Snitker must keep in mind. Having Fried and Sean Newcomb at his disposal at any time against the Dodgers would be huge because they have been the two best arms against them in recent memory. But the Braves have to win their first playoff series since 2001 first, which is easier said than done. In the latter third of games, they now have a formidable duo, so the Braves will need their starters to get through 6 innings, but in the playoffs that is never a guarantee.
Though Lance McCullers Jr. was thrown into a bullpen role in the postseason last year due to injury, I think Fried can assume a similar role, a great starter who can be deployed out of the bullpen at any time. And I think the Braves have to try to use him in the first few games if necessary, and if used too often turn to Julio Teheran.
This is actually coming from someone who was begging for a bigger role for Fried this season, and he has not disappointed in the slightest. This is not a knock on Fried, but rather a compliment. He has a knack for the big moment, and the Braves must do everything in their capacity to win the first few games. You have to turn to Fried over Julio out of the bullpen if it comes down to it.
Julio has been solid in his own right, though he has been faded a bit due to a rough last few outings. The two have had comparable seasons, but FIP suggests that Julio Teheran has been very lucky while Max Fried has actually been unlucky, which is bonkers considering he went 17-6 on the year, but he has had a ton of run support.
Gun to my head with two fresh arms to choose from in a game 4, I am choosing Max Fried but I think he will have to be used in the first few games of the series. I still feel that Julio Teheran is a viable option despite his rough last few starts. It is a great problem to have, but do not dismiss the notion of Julio Teheran starting a game in the NLDS. There is a solid chance it happens.
Braves fans, lets just hope the boys can win the first three games, and not even worry about that!