Braves split in Houston: 'That's a positive'

October 28th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Though there wasn’t much to celebrate during a 7-2 loss to the Astros in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, the Braves headed home feeling good about what they accomplished at Minute Maid Park.

Charlie Morton broke his leg seven outs into Game 1, and Max Fried endured a decisive four-run second inning in Game 2. But even with things not going according to plan for either of their top two starters, the Braves split the first two games of this best-of-seven series.

“Realistically, you want to win two,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But if you can split and get out of here and go home, where we've been really good, that's a positive.”

With Games 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for this weekend in Atlanta, the Braves will attempt to extend a recent trend. They have won 10 of their last 11 home games, including all five during the postseason.

Here are a few takeaways from the first two games of the Fall Classic:

Undesirable results
With Morton out for the rest of the Series, the Braves needed Fried to eat innings to take some strain off the bullpen. Things didn’t look good when he surrendered five hits and four runs in the second. But his ability to pitch into the sixth could prove valuable as the Braves lean heavily on their relief corps the next few days.

Fried surrendered just one hard-hit ball -- Michael Brantley’s 101.3 mph single -- during the second inning, and then he retired 10 straight batters before showing some fatigue in the sixth. His 86-pitch effort could position him to return on short rest for Game 5. But it seems best to hold him for Game 6 if possible.

“Yeah, that was terrific for him to be able to get into the sixth there, especially after they were able to score the runs they did,” said Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who hit a solo homer in the second inning. “It gave our bullpen the rest they needed after yesterday.”

Rested bullpen
When Ian Anderson starts Game 3 on Friday night at Truist Park, he’ll have a longer leash than he did when he went three innings and four innings in his two National League Championship Series starts against the Dodgers.

With bullpen games looming in Games 4 and 5, the Braves would love to see Anderson also get into the sixth inning. But if he doesn’t, they at least have the satisfaction of knowing their core relievers -- A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith -- are all rested.

One positive development from Wednesday’s loss was that Minter, Matzek, Jackson and Smith were not needed. So they will all have two days of rest leading into Game 3, which could be very important.

In all best-of-seven series tied 1-1, the winner of the third game has triumphed in the series 66 of 96 times (69%).

Valuable experience
Once Fried put two on without recording an out in the sixth, Snitker went to Dylan Lee, who had totaled three career appearances, with two of those coming in the regular season’s final weekend. Lee induced two ground balls (one went for an error) and recorded a strikeout before handing the ball to Jesse Chavez, who exited after retiring the only batter he faced to end the sixth.

While giving his top relievers a chance to rest on a night when his team was playing from behind after the second inning, Snitker was impressed with what he saw from Lee and Kyle Wright, who entered in the eighth and struck out the only three batters he faced.

Wright was a highly touted prospect who has struggled when given opportunities over the past two years. The 26-year-old hurler made just two Major League appearances (both starts) this year. But he stands as a candidate to start either Game 4 or 5.

“It was so encouraging to see Kyle tonight,” Snitker said. “He could play a huge part going forward. I thought he threw the ball extremely well.”

Potential plans
Using Chavez as an opener and having Drew Smyly follow him worked in September and again during Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. The Braves could go with this arrangement again in Game 4 of the Fall Classic. But Smyly didn’t necessarily produce a lot of confidence as he worked the seventh inning in Game 2.

Three of the four balls put in play against Smyly had an exit velocity of 95-plus mph. That included Jose Altuve’s home run and Brantley’s double. But considering Games 4 and 5 could both be bullpen games, Smyly will likely be needed to at least eat innings at some point.

Another potential option for Games 4 or 5 would be to use Minter as an opener. Minter worked 2 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Tuesday’s Game 1 win and could likely give at least two more innings if he were to start a game this weekend.

Playing in an American League park allowed the Braves to use Jorge Soler as their designated hitter in Games 1 and 2. But while playing in Atlanta, they may choose to have Soler replace Joc Pederson in right field.

Pederson has always shined in October and he’s had some big postseason moments this year. But he is 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts over his past five games. Soler has gone 3-for-9 with a double and a homer thus far during the World Series.