Going all the way back to Mike Soroka suffering a season-ending injury on Aug. 3, the Braves have been leaning on Max Fried and understanding the significance of each start. Their rotation has finally gained some depth as rookies Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright have emerged over the past few
Going all the way back to Mike Soroka suffering a season-ending injury on Aug. 3, the Braves have been leaning on Max Fried and understanding the significance of each start. Their rotation has finally gained some depth as rookies Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright have emerged over the past few weeks.
But to remain optimistic with their World Series hopes and potentially survive playing seven games in seven days with only three defined starters, the Braves understood the significance of backing the strong effort Fried provided in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
So, a definite sense of jubilation was felt when Austin Riley showed the baseball world his impressive power by leading off a four-run ninth with a go-ahead homer that propelled the Braves to a 5-1 win over the Dodgers, whose powerful offense was subdued by Fried.
• Box score
“When you have your No. 1 going, those are the games you most likely have to win,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “When he goes out there and gives that performance like he did tonight, you definitely want to capitalize.”
With their ninth-inning eruption, which included Ozzie Albies’ two-run homer, the Braves improved to 13-1 in games started by Fried this year. They have won their first six games this postseason -- becoming just the seventh team to do so -- with the help of a pitching staff that has allowed just six runs over 58 innings (0.93 ERA). That ties the 1983 Orioles for the fewest allowed through the first six games of a postseason.
• Melancon catches Albies' HR while prepping for 9th
Setting the tone has been Fried, who opened the postseason by delivering seven scoreless innings against NL Cy Young Award favorite Trevor Bauer in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. The lefty may have been even better in the latest effort, limiting the Dodgers to four hits and one run, while recording nine strikeouts over six innings.
Kiké Hernández’s fifth-inning homer accounted for the only run allowed by Fried, who was determined to bounce back after allowing four runs over four innings against the Marlins in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.
“Every time he goes out there, he seems to just cement himself as one of the best in the game,” Freeman said. “It seems like every Spring Training I’ve said, my favorite [to win awards] is Max Fried. He’s putting it all together. What another amazing performance tonight.”
Freeman’s solo homer against Walker Buehler in the first provided an early lead for Fried, who recorded three strikeouts but needed 28 pitches to complete the opening inning. The southpaw became more efficient over the next few innings and provided the length the Braves needed to prevent taxing too many relievers in the first game of a series that includes no off-days.
• Game 1 haymaker sets stage for epic NLCS
“Tonight was just more evidence in the growth of this kid,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Fried. “What he can bring to our ballclub is really good. I told him that stage he was on and how he responded was really impressive.”
Now that the Braves have a 1-0 lead in the NLCS for the first time since 1999, some pressure will be lifted off Anderson, who will take the mound in Game 2 having completed 11 2/3 scoreless innings over his first two career postseason starts. Atlanta’s Game 3 starter will be Wright, who will be making his second playoff start and just the 14th of his career at the big league level.
Though Anderson and Wright are capable of extending their recent success, there was a definite benefit to the Braves winning the series opener. In postseason history, teams winning Game 1 of any best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 114 of 179 times (64%).
“I think it’s huge,” Fried said. “You always want to start out on the right foot. You want to be up 1-0 whenever. It just gives you that confidence in knowing that you’ve got only three more. We only have three more to get through this and then four more after that.”
Satisfaction was felt when the Braves managed to win at least one game against the Dodgers in the 2018 NLDS. The landscape is much different this year, as both teams match up well against each other in many different aspects.
Riley encountered instant success when he arrived at the Majors last year and then faded horribly during the second half. He wasn’t included in last year’s postseason plans and didn’t become the team’s everyday third baseman until a few weeks into this season.
• Riley's clutch blast the 'biggest HR of his life'
But Snitker has always known Riley was capable of doing what he did when he drilled Blake Treinen’s 97.9 mph sinker over the left-field wall in the ninth inning. The 448-foot shot was the third longest of Riley’s young career.
This was the sixth go-ahead homer hit in the ninth inning or later in Braves postseason history. The most recent had been Rick Ankiel’s homer in a win over the Giants in Game 2 of the 2010 NLDS.
“That’s a pretty good No. 9-hole hitter we’ve got,” Freeman said. “That’s what is so great about this team. I just love it for him. He’s been battling, going through some ups and downs his first couple of years. For him to have that moment, the biggest home run of his life, I’m just so happy for him.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.