We are two weeks away from Opening Day, and while the complete 26-man roster isn’t set in stone, we have a pretty good idea of who the starters will be. This begins a two-part series where I will predict the Braves starters’ stats. I’ll kick it off with the rotation, and in a couple of days, I’ll project the numbers of Atlanta’s starting lineup. With Mike Soroka’s injury, the Braves will have at least six guys make starts, but it will probably be more like eight or nine. I’ll stick with the top-seven, who I expect will make at least five starts this season.
The Braves staff’s ace, Max Fried, deserves the ball when the Braves take the field against the Phillies on Opening Day. Some might believe his success last season was a bit flukey, but I’m not one of those people. I predicted before last season that he would have the lowest ERA on the staff and was not surprised that he was in the running for the Cy Young award.
This has been a long time coming for Fried. He’s improved each season, and the best part about it — it’s a different aspect of his game every year. Fried’s a bulldog on the mound, an absolute gamer, and his secondary offerings beyond his terrific fastball/curveball combination are only getting better. I expect him to be in the Cy Young conversation once again in 2021.
2021 Season Predictions: 18-7, 3.13 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
I wrote about how impactful Charlie Morton will be for the Braves this season, and his early performances in Spring Training only have me more excited for the 37-year-old. Don’t let his age fool you; Morton has aged like fine wine. His only two All-Star appearances came in his last two full seasons, in which he went a combined 31-9 with a 3.09 ERA. Morton wasn’t nearly as productive in 2020, but he dealt with some minor injury issues, and the sample size was minuscule. By the time the playoffs arrived, Morton was a pivotal piece to the Rays rotation. There’s no reason Morton can’t replicate his 2019 success in 2021.
2021 Season Predictions: 15-8, 3.55 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Mike Soroka won’t be ready for Opening Day, but I believe he will be back before the calendar turns to May. If it were October, the Braves would likely already have him pitching live, but with 162 games to go, there’s no reason to rush him. Soroka strikes me as the type of person who will only come back stronger from such a devastating injury. I don’t believe it will affect him much once he returns, but I do think he’s in a line for a slight bit of regression from his unbelievable rookie campaign.
2021 Season Predictions: 10-5, 3.71 ERA, 7.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
After bursting onto the season last year, Anderson is a popular pick to win Rookie of the Year, and our own Jake Gordon even believes he could be in the running for the Cy Young. I’m not that high on the 22-year-old; there’s simply no way he can sustain the numbers he put up last season over 162 games. However, I also don’t see him falling back to the norm like some sites such as FanGraphs do. Anderson has unbelievable poise on the mound, and his fastball/changeup combination is as good as any in baseball. He’s going to be fantastic again in 2021.
2021 Season Predictions: 14-8, 3.31 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
Smyly is the wild card of the group. After two years out of the game due to injury, he didn’t look good when he returned in 2019. However, he bounced back with a stellar 2020, posting a 3.42 ERA with an incredible 14.4 K/9 in 26.1 innings. I don’t believe he will sustain those numbers over an entire season, but he should be a more than capable fifth starter. Although, if he struggles, he could find himself in the bullpen, and one of the two guys below could take his spot in the rotation.
2021 Season Predictions: 10-9, 4.48 ERA, 11.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
I believe Bryse Wilson or Kyle Wright breaks out this year and ends up cementing themselves in the starting rotation, and I’m leaning towards it being Bryse Wilson. There’s something about that magical Game 4 performance he had in the NLCS last year against the Dodgers that I just can’t get out of my head. If he can cut down on the walks and continue to work on his secondary offerings, Wilson is going to be special. So far this spring, he’s been outstanding. I’m not saying it will all come together to begin the season, but eventually, he will be a permanent member of Atlanta’s rotation.
2021 Season Predictions: 5-3, 4.71 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9
It may not be a huge sample size, but for Wright’s entire major-league career, it has been one step forward and two steps back (maybe even three). The former 5th overall pick has all the stuff in the world, but he just hasn’t been able to figure out his location consistently enough. I would love to say I see that changing in 2021, but he’s shown nothing to make anyone believe that.
2021 Season Predictions: 1-2, 6.55 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 5.3 BB/9
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