Braves' pitching trio key to NL pennant push

October 15th, 2021

ATLANTA -- It’s been more than 20 years since the Braves earned a spot in the World Series. But one year after advancing all the way to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, they are better positioned for a Fall Classic appearance than they have been since the clubhouse included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson aren’t in the same category as the Hall of Fame trio mentioned above, but they have become a formidable bunch. They form the base of a rotation that is significantly stronger than what Atlanta used to nearly reach the World Series last year, something it hasn't done since 1999.

“I think we're in a better position this year,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who will prepare his team for an NLCS rematch with the Dodgers. “We were kind of piecing that starting thing together all last year, and now, we've got three guys that are pretty good and are battle-tested and have been through the wars.”

While winning three of four games against the Brewers in the NL Division Series, Fried, Morton and Anderson combined to allow four runs over 20 1/3 innings. Each of those runs was surrendered by Morton. The accomplished postseason veteran allowed Rowdy Tellez’s decisive two-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 1 and he surrendered a pair of fourth-inning runs while pitching on short rest in Tuesday's series-clinching 5-4 win in Game 4.

The Braves tossed a shutout in four of the five games during the first two rounds of last year’s postseason against the Reds and Marlins, respectively. Making that feat more incredible was the fact that their top three starters were Fried, Anderson and Kyle Wright -- none of whom had made a playoff start previously.

Fried had established himself as a big league starter in 2019 and he carried the load after Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon last year. Anderson entered the playoffs with a grand total of six starts after debuting on Aug. 26, 2020. As for Wright, he’d completed five innings in just half of his eight starts last year.

This year, the Braves feature a more-experienced Fried, who produced an MLB-best 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break. The lefty allowed three runs or fewer in three of four playoff starts last year, and he then tossed six scoreless innings in this past Saturday’s Game 2 win over the Brewers.

Morton has been one of the game’s top postseason pitchers over the past few years. He has a 2.53 ERA over his past 12 playoff appearances (11 starts).

As for Anderson, inexperience didn’t bother him as he tossed 17 2/3 scoreless innings before finally allowing his first career postseason run in Game 7 of last year’s NLCS. He worked five scoreless innings in Monday’s Game 3 win over the Brewers.

“We feel very good heading to the NLCS this year, regardless of who we're playing,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “We've got a great pitching staff. Three studs on the mound. Shoot, all our guys are nasty.”