MILWAUKEE -- None of this is foreign to Max Fried.
The 27-year-old left-hander has pitched in big games before, having started the first game in three postseason rounds in 2020. The Braves won each one, helping Atlanta get within one victory of playing in the World Series for the first time since 1999. But Fried will be pitching in a different type of postseason game on Saturday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Brewers at American Family Field. He will be asked to even a best-of-five series following Milwaukee's 2-1 victory over Atlanta in Game 1 on Friday.
“I feel good going into Game 2,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I have Max Fried pitching.”
Given that Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the Majors since the All-Star break, there might be nobody better to have on the mound in Game 2. Over his past 14 starts (93 innings), he has a 1.74 ERA, and he has limited opponents to a .190 average and allowed just 63 hits, while striking out 86 against 16 walks. The only pitcher with a better ERA since the break (minimum two starts) is Philadelphia’s Ranger Suárez, who had a 1.65 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts).
The two-plus-month run has put Fried in a good place.
“I think you get to the part of the year where everything lines up with the mental side,” Fried said before Game 1. “Physically, just being in sync and being on a really good page with game plans and the catcher.”
As a left-hander with an excellent curveball and slider, Fried presents a difficult matchup for the Brewers. Opponents are batting .160 with a .253 slugging percentage against his curveball, and they are hitting .208 with a .317 slugging percentage against his slider. Those numbers are noteworthy because Milwaukee struggles against lefties, particularly left-handed breaking balls.
The Brewers have a .681 OPS this season against southpaw starters, which ranks 26th. They have the lowest batting average (.190) and the third-lowest wOBA (.251) against breaking balls, as well as the second-lowest batting average (.174) and the fourth-lowest wOBA (.246) against left-handed breaking balls.
No Brewers other than Willy Adames and Jackie Bradley Jr. have faced Fried in the past two seasons, either.
“I think that [in] these types of games, that isn’t going to play as big of a role,” Braves outfielder Joc Pederson said. “They’re pretty intense. But if it does help, then hopefully it does because he’s on our side. So let’s use that.”
Or maybe it is better said this way: If Fried is good in Game 2, it might just be because he is really, really good.
And because he has done this before.
“There’s nothing replacing experience,” Fried said about his 12 postseason appearances (four starts). “A lot of times, when you come into it, you don’t know what to expect or how different the game is. But over the last couple of years, you realize that it’s a little bit more intense. You go out there and know if you execute your pitches, do everything you do in the regular season, it should translate. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on myself, and ideally going out there trying to get a win.
“It’s no longer speeding up. At the end of the day, the person with the slower heartbeat normally has the advantage. So being able to take it pitch by pitch, not get too overwhelmed, and just go out there and play our game.”