Seems like an odd post since we didn’t acquire a starter at the trade deadline, right? Yes, but the passing of the trade deadline signifies that the Braves’ rotation options are largely set for the rest of the year. And at this point, you have to love the bullpen, lineup, and bench for the rest of the year and into a potential playoff series.
Because that’s where we are as a team. The Great Rebuild is over. Done. Finished. I would argue The Great Rebuild officially ended when Ronald Acuna hit the grand slam in Game 3 of the NLDS. The kids had arrived. We were in the playoffs. And we just punched the juggernaut of the National League right in the face, and off of their PRECIOUS Walker Buehler to boot. But you could also make the argument The Great Rebuild ended on Wednesday afternoon. We finally cashed in some chips to get “win now” players. But that also means that for the rest of the year, what we have in the rotation is what we have. There’s no waiting on kids, there’s no speculation on who we might cash in for what. Where we are is where we are.
If you’re looking at two horses to ride for the rest of the regular season and games 1, 2, and two of 5, 6, 7 of a 7-game postseason series, you have to love Dallas Keuchel and Mike Soroka. I’m not sure if they match up with Hyun Jin Rui and Clayton Kershaw, but with the totality of the roster, you have to think they’re going to keep you in the ballgame and let the rest of the team do some work. From there, it’s difficult. That’s why I’m going to focus on spots 3 through 5 in the rotation.
And while doing that, let me acknowledge that Julio Teheran will have a place in this rotation for the rest of the year, but if we’re being honest, we’d be more comfortable with another pitcher starting the third game of a postseason series. The way I see it, the only other realistic options are Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, and Max Fried.
It’ll be very difficult to see Kevin Gausman starting a playoff game. At this point, he’s a two-pitch pitcher, and my expectation for him for the rest of the year would be for him to be a 5th or 6th starter in the rotation, getting through the order 2 good times, and then giving way to our now deep pen. If you wanted to throw him for 3-4 innings in a postseason game, I could see that too.
So in my world, it really leaves Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz. It’d be hard for me to see how any of our top pitching prospects — Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, or Ian Anderson — could both crack the rotation and then pitch well enough to warrant playoff consideration. As I mentioned in my recap, Fried has had 3 stretches to this season. His first 12 appearances, 10 of them starts, amounted to 56.1 IP, 51 K, 13 BB, 50 H, and a 2.88 ERA. Next stretch: 42.1 IP, 60 H, 16 BB, 46 K, 6.17 ERA. Then his most 3 starts: 16.1 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 15 K for a 2.76 ERA. If Fried were to have a sustainable run that matches his early and most recent performance, then you would probably feel good about him matching up with a Walker Buehler in the postseason.
Folty, at this point, is the wild card to the starting pitching equation. IF — and this isn’t particularly helpful, I recognize — he could match last year’s performance, then the latter end of this post is not even relevant. You would be riding into the postseason with Keuchel, Soroka, and Folty. But it’s well-documented how terrible he’s been, and it doesn’t help that a big portion of the fanbase doesn’t like his attitude or his mindset. But I’m still a big believer in the 98 MPH fastball and wipeout slider. I’m still a big believer in the aggression of his attitude. I’m a big believer in his 8 Game Scores over 70 last year and 17 over 60. In Dallas Keuchel‘s 2015 Cy Young Award-winning season, he had 12 game scores over 70; as I said, Folty had 8 last year.
And there’s reason for optimism to go along with the laundry list of reasons for pessimism. Folty’s issue is consistency from start to start, and he’s worked on that at AAA. Since being optioned to AAA, he’s allowed 2 ER or fewer in 5 of his 6 starts. He was through 3 innings with only 40 pitches thrown in his most recent start before it was shortened by rain. If he rattled off his third 7 IP start in 6 goes, we would probably be talking about Folty joining the rotation now.
If you were willing to consolidate the options down to Fried or Folty, would you bet on being the third playoff option? If not Fried or Folty, then who?