The Athletic names their X-Factor for the Braves

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The Athletic just released their weekly power rankings for the first time after the All-Star break. Even though the Braves just lost their first series in over six weeks, they remained at the #1 spot, just ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. However, The Athletic also released their X-Factor for each team as the race for the postseason heats up, and the Braves’ is injured ace Max Fried.

1. Atlanta Braves

Record: 61-31
Last Power Ranking (before the All-Star break): 1

X-factor: Max Fried

If we’d boldly predicted this spring that the Braves would be 31 games over .500 coming out of the All-Star break despite getting only five starts apiece from Fried and Kyle Wright, even Braves fans would have told us, “You are not serious people.” Fried, who has a 2.64 ERA over the past four seasons, is currently on a rehab assignment after missing much of the first half with a forearm strain. Keeping him healthy down the stretch is a must, because a playoff rotation that includes Fried, Charlie Morton and All-Stars Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder is about as good as it gets. — Stephen Nesbitt

The Braves starters experienced some troubles this past weekend against the White Sox. Spencer Strider delivered his worst start in over a month, and Kolby Allard reminded everyone that he shouldn’t be relied on to start every five days. The Braves need to figure out the back end of their rotation, but as Nesbitt notes, their top four has the potential to be among the best in the league.

There’s no reason to be concerned with Strider. Charlie Morton is looking like a front-line starter again, and Bryce Elder was an All-Star for a reason. Adding Max Fried to the mix is all this rotation really needs. They don’t need to make a splash at the trade deadline. Fried is as good as any starter in baseball, and he’s already progressing in his rehab assignment.

Over the weekend, Fried tossed three scoreless innings in High-A Rome. He needed just 30 pitches to complete the job, down from the 35 he threw in his first rehab start. That was a little bit alarming, but according to the coaching staff, that was the plan all along. Fried felt great afterward and will aim to throw around 50-60 pitches next time out. It’s reasonable to expect him back in early August, which should give him plenty of time to find a groove before the postseason.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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