The starting rotation resets with a chance to clinch in Houston

Max Fried walks onto the field at Minute Maid Park to begin his pregame warmups.

Of course it would’ve been so much more satisfying to clinch a World Series win at Truist Park on Sunday. Up 3-1 in the series, and sporting a 4-0 advantage against the Astros after the first inning last night, it almost felt as if it was the perfect opportunity for the Braves. But for the second game in row, the team was forced to piece together the first 4-5 innings, and with Tucker Davidson perhaps a bit over his head (and a manager maybe a bit late with the hook), Houston’s offense broke out with nine runs from a dozen hits. The pitching by Atlanta has been incredible nearly all postseason. However, forced to operate with an unusual approach in both Game 4 and 5, it was always going to be a tough task.

Fortunately, a traditional starter returns for the Braves as a rested Max Fried will take the mound against the Astros on Tuesday for Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. The over-worked bullpen will be somewhat rested, and hopefully with a little more normalcy from the start, Atlanta can get back to it’s seemingly fool-proof plan so far, which is to get 4-5 innings from its starter and then bring out The Night Shift.

If you recall: Fried started that Game 2 contest that was essentially over from the beginning. With five runs surrendered in the first couple of innings, the Braves played from behind the entire time and ended up losing 7-2. Despite allowing a six spot, though, Fried still managed to go fairly deep (at least for the postseason) and last five frames on 86 pitches, thanks to nine-straight outs to finish up his outing. Whether it was a mechanical change or just him simply settling down, it’s evident the 27-year-old got stronger as the game progressed. Hopefully that continues in his upcoming start for Tuesday.

For Game 6, Houston will reportedly go with the rookie, Luis Garcia, who’s coming off even less rest as he started Game 3 this past Friday. I was able to attend that 2-0 victory in Atlanta, and let me tell you, the 24-year-old was lucky to get out of that outing without further damage. Garcia only allowed a run off three hits, but in his 3.2 innings of work the Braves managed four batted-balls with exit-velos of at least 99 MPH. The kid was generating a good bit of swing and miss (hence the six strikeouts), however, he was pitching on borrowed time during that cold and miserable night.

As unfortunate as it is that the Braves were unable to finish the Astros at home on Sunday, perhaps the most positive aspect of a prolonged series is the simple fact that the team’s arms can receive some much-needed rest (even if that obviously applies for both teams). A World Series win was always going to come down to the pitching, and more specifically the relief core; and though the bullpen faltered a bit in last night’s loss, it’s somewhat understandable given the load it has had to carry over the last several days.

But all of that hopefully changes as the series shifts back to Houston. The task at hand is a simple one: win just one of the next two games. And hopefully, now that the starting rotation has reset, the Braves are in a better position to do just that. With Fried slated to start Game 6, and most likely Ian Anderson if necessary for Game 7… I like their chances.

58 thoughts on “The starting rotation resets with a chance to clinch in Houston”

  1. I sympathize with the optimism about Fried. I, too, have high hopes but I shake my head any time someone brings up all the outs in a row after a guy has given up a boatload of runs. It means nothing. What’s important is that he gave up a boatload of runs. If the later outs signaled a change in approach then I can be hopeful about that but John Smoltz sat there and predicted a rout before it happened because of what Fried was throwing.

    I want the Braves to win. I want Fried to succeed; he’s still my favorite pitcher. But this is a terrible matchup for him. Maybe he needs to take some tips from Glavine. If we can get five whole good innings from Fried and then go Martin/Matzek/Jackson/Smith, then we can win this thing tomorrow. My big money is on a super-performance from Jethro. In fact, if the Braves lead by 3-4 by the 4th inning, I might consider going to Ian Anderson tomorrow. Wright should be in the mix somewhere too.

    If we don’t have some sort of lead after the end of 4, I don’t think the game will be winnable.

  2. I wonder if less shifting especially with two strikes might be able to fill some of the holes the Astros found in game 2.

  3. Games 4 and 5 were the first of the whole playoffs where Snitker didn’t go for the jugular, especially in game 5 with the big lead. Lee, Wright, Davidson, and Smyly are probably the last 4 guys anyone wanted to see in this series. If we don’t see any of them again, then we will know things probably went pretty well.

    Wright did a heroic job keeping the Braves in the game Saturday, and will go down as a key figure if the Braves close this out. But, he also gave up 5 hits and walked 3 in 4 2/3 innings, so let’s not go crazy over how effective he might be going forward. If Fried doesn’t have it, he’d be a candidate over the other 3. But, if Fried can go even 3 innings with a lead, then I want to see no one but Fried, Chavez, Martin, Minter, Jackson, Matzek or Smith.

  4. Ian Anderson pitches Game 7. If necessary. He should not be allowed on the field even if the game is in the 20th inning. You go for the killshot with your bullpen. You don’t give away your edge for Game 7 to do a move which very well might not even work, anyway.

  5. @4 If Minter is back to not throwing strikes, he should be off the prime list. I’d rather go to Wright than Minter at this point. Minter’s style requires a very narrow path to be successful. He has to get ahead and he has to get swings on his slider which is never a strike. If that doesn’t work, he needs his changeup to get swings and misses. If he doesn’t throw strikes with his FB and changeup, he will walk all the Maldonados of the world who just won’t take the bat off their shoulder. Elsewise, the hitters will start to time his FB when he is forced to throw it.

  6. Roger, you were the guy who was excited about Fried before anyone else was. Your expertise in this area, along with your insights on Minter, carry a lot of weight. I really hope we don’t get to a 7th game, so I’d be happy to see Ian tomorrow night.

  7. @7 No he wasn’t. He was mostly ahead in the counts, and the hits he allowed where on decent pitches (except for the Gonzales bloop which caught more of the plate than intended). He didn’t come close to walking anybody else, just couldn’t throw a strike to Maldonado when he had to (and a couple of the balls were borderline).

  8. Agree with @9. His outing was disappointing but he wasn’t all that off. Moreover, Minter has been lights out for weeks. Chalk it up to a bad night, which all relievers have on occasion.
    Same with Fried. He was as good as anyone in baseball since August—until his last two starts. I see no reason to think he’s somehow lost it.

  9. On Minter, I thought he looked lights out for his first few batters and almost unhittable. Not sure what happened, but they started hitting him pretty hard. I agree that he should be entitled to one bad outing, but I think Roger’s point was that he should have a very short leash. I think everyone who works the “Night Shift” has had a bad outing except Will Smith.

  10. I can’t be mad at Minter. He’s been money for weeks. We aren’t here without him. You can’t expect perfection out of a reliever who’s been used a lot. The bigger issue last night was Snit’s decision-making, Dansby’s error, and the offense going to sleep.

  11. Eric O’Flaherty had mentioned in the Dodger game that Fried was rushing his pitches, which was causing his pitches to be elevated. Same thing happened to a lesser degree early on in the first Astro game. Max was talking on the radio about making an adjustment. Hope it works. EOF for assistant pitching coach. I have full confidence in Max. He is the horse who brought us here.

    I don’t think Snit will bat Ozzie 7th but I think it’s time to take the pressure off of him.

    I have lost no faith in Minter. I think it was foolish to walk Bregman. Then Maldonado stood on top of the plate and neither Travis nor Kranitz went out and talked to him. It was just a bad night.

  12. Max was rolling in the last few innings of his prior start. I have high hopes for a good performance today. When he’s really on his game, he can throw curves for called strikes (at the knees) or swinging strikes (in the dirt), and use his fastball for whiffs at the top of the zone and ground balls with low/inside fastballs. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. I will say that good teams (like the Dodgers and the Astros) have been far less prone to swinging at Max’s curveball below the zone, but Max has a lot of weapons when he’s on.

    My wish for the Braves’ offense is that they realize that we are up 3 – 2 in the series. Make their pitchers throw strikes. No more completely uncompetitive ABs from Albies, Duvall, Swanson. Get the count in your favor, wait for a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere. If the Astros keep nibbling at the zone, take your base and let the next guy up be the hero. Tighten the vise until their parade of relievers fails.

  13. I’m not too worried about Fried, and I believe there’s no doubt that him starting tonight well rested is the Braves BEST shot at winning. Fried’s coming off two poor lines in a row, but it is notable that he was able to regroup in that GM 2 outing versus HOU. I’m not completely excusing that performance — he did allow a few hard-hit balls during the first couple of innings. But… he also got BABIP’d to death, to go with back-to-back perfectly placed flyballs in the first that wound up pushing across Altuve.

    It’s pretty crazy when you compare Fried’s outing from Game 2 and Anderson’s from Game 3. The former generated 10% more whiffs and essentially finished with the same average exit-velo allowed, but ended up surrendering six runs from seven hits… while the latter of course tossed a no-hitter. It obviously doesn’t change the outcome or really mean anything at all… but it DOES show that Fried really didn’t pitch all that bad.

  14. @15: Your second paragraph is spot on! Man I hope someone is telling Ozzie to be more patient at the plate. I know he has an aggressive approach, but there have been numerous ABs in this series in which he’s swinging… no matter what.

    I think the X-factor for the offense right now is that Freddie is really starting to heat up at the plate. That homer in GM 5 was absolutely crushed, and at least to me, it looks like he’s seeing the ball much better, getting back to his long ABs that feature a ton of foul balls. The man has a hit in each of the five games so far this series, and I’m thinking he’s about to explode with a 3- or 4-hit game.

  15. @15 and 18

    When Ozzie figures how to work a count, he is going to the hall of fame.

    I thought our approach in game one was great. Everyone was working counts. Since that game we have been hacking away.

  16. You guys aren’t watching the same Fried as me. If he gives up less than 5 I’ll be shocked. To me this thing is all about whether our offense can score 10 in either of these two games.

  17. I’m not sure who has been the bigger disappointment, Ozzie with his .167 avg and .452 OPS or Joctober with his .091 avg and .322 OPS. We need both to do something before the end of the series.

  18. #20: It could very well go that way, though it’s not as if the Astros are all that much better on offense at Minute Maid… so that shouldn’t necessarily be the reason.

    I think Fried just simply struggled a bit against a dangerous lineup last time out. I mean, HOU did finish the regular season with the top offense for a reason.

  19. I’m hoping (and thinking) Fried will have a better game this time around, but he’ll keep us in it no matter what. I’m not seeing a Folty start here. I agree with others (and have been saying this the entire series) – more patient at bats. Work the count. Cause them to nibble at the edges and take your walks. True, it’s hard to do when the umps seem to be giving them far more calls than we seem to get, but stop swinging wildly at the first pitch and as many times as not getting an out from it. Two many innings have there been two to five pitches produce two outs. That has to stop if we’re gonna win this thing. Our offense is too good to allow that.

  20. @23 We seem to swing early in the count a lot more the first time through the line up, which to me is the most important time to work the count. Freddie and Ozzie in particular seem to swing at the first pitch and put it in play a lot the first time up.

  21. @24 – We’ve been an aggressive offense for much of the last two years and it does work, from time to time. Ozzie and Acuna, especially. They love to ambush the first pitch. Freddie can too, but I see him having a much better eye at the plate and able to lay off the close pitches. Ozzie not so much. Many times, he can leg one out because of his speed. I am most surprised that Ozzie does not have a HR in this post season. We know he has power.

    It was mentioned by Smoltz the other night, if you are determined to swing, you’ll swing even on a bad pitch. In Albies third at-bat (I think) he swung at a ball on the first pitch. Missed it. Then watched a strike come through. Already he’s down 0-2. Then he popped up to finish the at bat. On three pitches. That is the opposite of working the count and he’s a better batter than that.

    (And as an aside and for too many of our guys…they’ll swing on a 3-0 count. I remain a firm believer in the idea…make the pitcher prove he can throw a strike. If not, take your walk and see what happens.)

    I have to give credit to Houston for not doing that. They have some free swingers too, and we’ve used that at times to our advantage, but by and large they are laying off the way outside stuff and we are not. That is a recipe for hibernation mode.

  22. The thing that bothered me with Fried the last time out was the game plan. Almost every RHB for the Astros has a hot zone on the inside part of the plate and he kept trying to bury it on them right in that zone. I know that’s his strength, but it’s there’s too. He’s got to adapt this time around.

  23. Also lay off a bit on the “shift book” we have on them. I can count at least 3 times it has not worked when otherwise we’d have seen an out or double play if we were lined up normally. Of course, we need to catch the ball as well, and Swanson and Albies have both had a bit of a struggle a couple of times here. Doesn’t happen often.

  24. @26 Yeah that’s the reason I’m not looking forward to tonight. Pitching inside is Fried’s standard gameplan, but this team is just too good and too smart. They can basically just eliminate his curveball because it’s almost never a called strike. Sit on the inside fastball and you’ll get one or two during an at-bat.

    It’s asking a lot for Max to suddenly become Tom Glavine, but that’d by my gameplan. He really needs to develop a changeup going forward – and tonight is not the game to play around with it – but at least work the outer-half of the plate with both pitches some tonight. Pick your spots to come inside, just don’t go there 80% of the time.

  25. Hmm…without looking it up, can you guess who has pitched the most innings for the Braves in this Series?

  26. @30 – Yep. 5 and 2/3 innings compared to Fried and Anderson with 5 innings each. Held them to 5 hits and 1 run (but with 3 walks.) Also 6 Ks. Might not be a bad option if things go south early with Fried (which again, I don’t think will happen.)

  27. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much IMO), the Houston forecast suggests the roof will be open tonight and closed tomorrow night. Of course, we won with the roof closed and lost with it open, plus Houston lost four home World Series games in 2019 with the roof closed, so yeah…I kinda think that whole thing is overblown.

  28. Ehire Adrianza went on the paternity list and Johan Camargo will replace him. Fantastic timing on that, Ehire.

    In all honesty, it probably doesn’t matter much with the DH in effect.

  29. I find it unlikely that Fried will have a 3rd consecutive bad start.

    Also, their starter is on short rest.

  30. @35 – Interesting on Adrianza. Maybe Camargo will finally get that first hit of 2021 – a game winner would be great.

  31. @26 For all the other blather about Fried, good and bad, this is the most important note. It’s exactly what Smoltz said. It’s what I say when I talk about the Astros being a poor matchup for Fried. Fried is an excellent pitcher but every pitcher has his kryptonite. If they develop a plan wherein Fried can pitch against type and go after the Astros’ weaknesses then he has every potential to succeed. If Fried goes to a plan of pitching “Glavine” (outside and outsider) then they must set up the defense accordingly. Less shifting.

    I’m really looking forward to the Astros’ RHH giving up on the curve that starts over the LH batters box and gets called a strike. Very risky as if any of those curves gets too far inside and whammo. It also requires a fair and competent umpire.

    @28 You are dead wrong about that curve. The most devastating part of that pitch is when he throws it over the LH batter’s box and it drops in for a strike. Not only can’t they hit it but they almost never swing at it. I’ll agree that the ones in the dirt are not fun to watch and the Astros won’t swing at them (the essence of why Minter can’t succeed too).

    @13 Can’t agree about Minter. It’s true that he was throwing strikes to begin with but he was not lights out and went hit, out, hit, out before walking Bregman (which was a huge mistake as Minter had pitched him very well). And note that he got 2 outs from LHH and all 5 RHH he faced got on base. Minter needs to be used very carefully against the Astros. He is very effective against LHH but the only RHH he’s had success against are the free swingers (Altuve, Bregman). But he has been especially successful against Alvarez. Nothing but Ks. His best outings have been when starting with a LHH or Altuve. Last game, he went RH, LH, RH, LH, RH, RH, RH and that doomed him. If they wanted to walk Bregman then they should have brought in Chavez to face Maldonado.

  32. In the spirit of giving opportunities for players to be unlikely-but-deserving heroes, I’d like to see Heredia PH for Joc in the late innings if Houston has a LHP rather than wait to put him in center only if the team is ahead in the 9th. Heredia is much better in his career against LHP than Joc, and even if the Astros counter with a RHP, he isn’t noticeably worse against RHP than Joc is against LHP, and he’s a better defender either way. In the two earlier Houston/DH games, Joc faced RHP in the 8th innings, so the opportunity didn’t come up. Heredia had 347 PA in the regular season, so he was more than just a sword-waver in the first half, and I would love to see how he would celebrate.

  33. @39 But will Snit adjust his strategy on shifting? That is the million dollar question. I would love to see Varsity pitch “Glavine” style but I hedge to think Snit will get out of the shift to make is successful.

  34. #44
    Gotta say, I do like tonight’s lineup — Rosario & Soler hitting 1 & 2 — although I might’ve gone Ozzie 6th & Joc 7th. Had to drop Ozzie… his recent ABs have been pretty shaky.

    Give ’em hell, Smitty

  35. Roger and krussell make a strong case that Fried’s approach is ill suited to succeed against the Astros lineup. OTOH, I’m convinced he has the stuff, the smarts, and the drive and determination to make the adjustments he needs to—and will therefore pitch a masterful game.

    Could go either way—that’s why this is so fun!

  36. “Could go either way—that’s why this is so fun!”

    Isn’t that what they say…. at the craps table?

    I was going to resolve to not bathe until the Braves won the World Series, but it raised the possibility (albeit unlikelihood) of a really long year.

    The Whistlepig magic is lost, so I’m thinking that I’ll just let the players’ natural talent take over without my intervention. Boys: you’re on your own.

    Roll the dice.

  37. JonathanF, Blaise Pascal might argue in favor of your drinking the Whistlepig regardless of its efficacy in changing the end game outcome.

  38. We’ve won/lost games when I go to them, when I watch on tv, when I wear my lucky hat, or the other lucky hat, when I drink bourbon, or scotch, or beer, or water, when I shave and when I grow a beard … it’s almost as if my superstitions have zero impact on the outcome of any Braves game. Hmmm.

    (If you think about it, if it really takes about 100k die-hard fans to all do their exact lucky pre-game and in-game rituals, all at the same time, without anyone messing up…then we’re totally fooked anyways LOL).

  39. @49: Where did I say I wasn’t going to be drinking Whistlepig? I’m just not going to let it determine the outcome.

  40. @41 I am under the impression that Snit lets someone else take lead on the shifting. I feel like he said that sometime? that it was maybe Weiss in charge of that?

  41. Interesting that as you look at the lineup and the performance throughout the playoffs that Rosario is the only player that has outperformed expectations. Everyone else has either met expectations (Freddie, Austin) or underperformed (Ozzy, Dansby). For some reason I’m looking for Dansby and Soler to have a big game tonight.

  42. Since I speculated on the roof earlier, the Houston Chronicle reports that the roof will be open tonight. And looking at the forecast, it is highly likely to be closed tomorrow (90% chance of showers/thunderstorms).

  43. @54 but the opposite is mostly true for the pitching, note. The pitchers have basically carried in the postseason.

  44. My gut tells me it’s Ozzie’s night. The move down the lineup (plus adjustments) worked for Tucker, why not Ozzie? I think production at the bottom of the lineup is crucial to our chances. I don’t think we’ve had a real offensive breakout since mid-September (against the D’Backs, Oy). I hate to think Duvall’s slam is the last huge inning we’re going to have. I sure would like our bats to make it academic how well Fried pitches.

    Even without shift adjustments, pitching outside should take away the short porch.

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