WASHINGTON -- Mike Foltynewicz has put himself in the thick of the postseason roster decisions, which became even more pressing when the Braves secured a playoff berth with a 10-1 win over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon.
Postgame thoughts focused on Charlie Culberson, who was struck under the right eye while attempting to bunt a Fernando Rodney pitch during what proved to be a decisive four-run seventh. An incensed Brian Snitker was ejected when a strike was called because the umpires ruled Culberson was still squaring to bunt when he was hit.
As Culberson was being evaluated at a nearby hospital, the Braves gained a 10 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals and reduced their magic number to clinch the National League East to four with 12 games remaining. There’s a little more work to do to clinch a second straight division title, but the Braves have ensured they would at least secure one of the NL’s two Wild Card spots.
The Braves’ return to the postseason has been secured as they have produced MLB’s best winning percentage dating back to June 1. They have won 11 of their past 15 (including five of six within the past two weekends) against the Nationals.
“When we played them [last weekend] at home, that was a huge series,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “We answered the bell. We come here, it’s a big series and we’ve done the same thing. This team is for real.”
The results of this start were much different than when he had last pitched at Nationals Park on June 23. The former All-Star allowed eight runs over four innings that night and was then sent to Triple-A Gwinnett for six weeks.
It’s safe to say Foltynewicz’s mood was much different after he limited the Nationals to one run over six innings on Saturday. He has steadily improved since returning to the Majors on Aug. 6 and now has a 1.52 ERA over his past five starts.
“I think I’m back to where I was last year,” Foltynewicz said. “I got sent down to figure a lot of things out. I went there because I know how good this team is. I know I can help this team win.”
A year ago, Foltynewicz was the Braves’ Game 1 starter in the NL Division Series. He might not draw that honor again this year. But over the past few weeks, he has gone from a potential playoff reliever to somebody who would be hard to leave out of a postseason rotation.
Along with improving the effectiveness of his two-seamer and slider, Foltynewicz has benefited from a better demeanor. Instead of becoming upset when he allowed Anthony Rendon’s first-inning RBI double or when he encountered more second-inning trouble, he persevered and retired 13 of the last 14 batters faced.
“He’s been really, really good,” McCann said. “He’s been working both sides and getting that two-seamer going and the four-seamer. He’s getting early-count outs and putting away guys when he gets two strikes on them.”