MILWAUKEE -- Showing why he has quickly established himself as one of the game’s top starters, Max Fried once again got the Braves back on track with another of those dominant starts he frequently produced over the past couple of months.
“I’d call [Fried] the best starter in the second half and the best starter down the stretch,” Braves left-handed reliever Tyler Matzek said. “He’s a guy that has been absolutely dominating games we have to win.”
Just like he did when the NL East race got tight down the stretch, Fried delivered one of his better performances of the year and evened this best-of-five series, which will shift to Atlanta for Game 3 on Monday afternoon. His effort provided further reason to refer to him as an ace, a stopper or just the guy who repeatedly puts the Braves in a good position.
“The stakes might be higher [in the postseason], but if you go out there and make the pitch you’re supposed to make, that’s going to trump all,” Fried said. “For me to just go out there and simplify it as much as I can and stay on the attack, rather than nibble, that was the only thought I had.”
Fried recorded nine strikeouts and allowed just three hits during his impressive 81-pitch effort. The 27-year-old southpaw threw four more pitches than Charlie Morton had through six innings in Atlanta’s Game 1 loss on Friday. But unlike Morton, Fried was not sent back out for the seventh.
“[Fried] went through the meat of their lineup there in the sixth and expended what I thought was a lot of energy right there, in a real big moment in playoff baseball,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Charlie has been through this a hundred times. Max is just cutting his teeth with all of this.”
Unlike the decision to send Morton out for Friday’s seventh, the decision to lift Fried after six innings didn’t backfire. Luke Jackson surrendered a single to Luis Urías and walked Lorenzo Cain with two outs in the seventh. But Matzek once again proved to be Atlanta’s high-leverage ace.
Matzek struck out Tyrone Taylor to end the seventh and then recorded two more strikeouts as he stranded two in the eighth. His strong effort, combined with Will Smith’s scoreless ninth, preserved Fried’s gem.
Fried led the Majors with a 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break. He has now held opponents scoreless in three of his past four starts going back to a seven-inning effort in San Francisco on Sept. 19. His masterpiece against the Giants was provided a day after the Braves had lost a fourth straight game and stood just a half-game in front of the Phillies.
Five days later in San Diego, the Braves lost the resumption of a suspended game. Their division lead was one game. But Fried once again stopped the bleeding when he tossed a three-hit shutout against the Padres during the regularly scheduled game later that night.
“It’s just a ton of strikes,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s no free pitches for the hitters. He doesn’t leave stuff in the middle. The slider has been a really good pitch to the right-handed hitters. It kind of bears in on their hands and he pairs that with a fastball on their hands.”
Fried’s rise toward being one of the game’s top starters began during his 17-win season in 2019, when he added a slider to a repertoire that had always featured a good curveball. He threw 20 sliders on Saturday. The Brewers whiffed with six of the 13 swings taken against the pitch. A called strike was registered against five of the seven sliders that didn’t induce a swing.
“He’s fun to watch when he’s got it going on because he pitches,” Snitker said. “I mean he’s got the arsenal and assortment. He spins the ball so well. It was a great outing.”
By earning the split in Milwaukee, the Braves have swiped the home-field advantage. In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams that have split the first two games on the road, before returning home for Game 3, have gone on to win the series 23 of 36 times (64%). This excludes 2020, when the Division Series were played at neutral sites.