The Braves rotation, which once looked like one of the strongest in the league, has begun to crumble at the worst possible time.
Charlie Morton has officially been ruled out for the NLDS. The hope is that he can return for the NLCS, but the Braves will have to figure out what they are going to do without him if they even want to make it that far. Max Fried is also on the IL with a blister, but the expectation is for him to be ready for the NLDS.
The Braves have dealt with injury concerns throughout the year. Max Fried and Kyle Wright both have missed most of the season, so this isn’t exactly new. However, what is new is the struggles of Bryce Elder. He was an All-Star this season — a big reason why the Braves are where they are today — but the second half of the season has been one to forget.
Elder hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in either of his last two starts and over his last 14 outings, he owns a 5.75 ERA with opponents recording a .796 OPS against him. The regression that many feared might smack him after an incredible first half has arrived, and it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that he will get the ball in Game 3 of the NLDS with Morton sidelined.
But if not Elder… then who?
Wright has been dealing with shoulder injuries that have kept him sidelined for most of the season. He’s only made seven starts, and in those starts, he’s been nothing short of abysmal. However, he’s healthy now and stretched out. His last outing did come out of the bullpen, and that’s certainly a possibility in the playoffs, but the Braves might want to give him one last start before the season ends and see how he looks. Wright still has elite stuff, and he’s also performed well in the last two postseasons. The experience and stuff combination could be the Braves best bet, even if it might seem like a bit of a Hail Mary right now.
If I had to put money on it right now, I think the Braves are going to go with some combination of a bullpen game in Game 3. Kyle Wright may be included in that, or the Braves could turn to guys like Michael Tonkin, Jesse Chavez, and Jackson Stephens. That’s probably a better option than Bryce Elder right now, and with so many off-days during the NLDS, Brian Snitker doesn’t have to worry too much about keeping these guys rested. If the series goes five games, it will include three off-days. Throw in the fact that the Braves will have a week off before the NLDS, and the bullpen should be well-rested and ready to throw multiple innings if need be.
This is probably the least likely option, but the Braves are starting Darius Vines today, and I’m expecting Allan Winans to get a start as well this week. Both have looked decent in limited action as rookies. If one of them looks fantastic in their final start of their season, could they get the nod? I find it highly unlikely the Braves would trust a rookie with fewer than 10 MLB starts to start on the road in a pivotal Game 3, but these are unusual circumstances. If they feel one of their young arms has the mental toughness to handle such a situation, perhaps they give him the opportunity with a short leash.
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