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Monday, 30 September 2019 21:28

'MATTer of Opinion' Sports Column: A view from the mound in October

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The Atlanta Braves have one of the best problems a major league ball club can have: having too many quality starters to make an easy decision as to who should be in the playoff rotation. But if I'm manager Brian Snitker, I may not even make this decision by Thursday, when the NLDS kicks off.

The first three spots seem easy.

Dallas Keuchel should get the nod in Game 1. He has been fantastic at home this season and has light years more playoff experience than any other member of the rotation. Historically, he has gone 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 playoff appearances, and this year at home, he has a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts.

Mike Foltynewicz has experienced a return to form and then some. He is the hottest Braves starter right now which should give him the nod for Game 2.

Mike Soroka has been the best pitcher on this staff over the course of the season but has a 1.35 ERA on the road compared to a 4.14 ERA at home. At just 22 years of age, throwing Soroka in a Game 3 takes the pressure off him and will be a matchup nightmare for the opposing team.

But what happens after that? The Braves still have two quality starters in Julio Teheran and Max Fried. I say use a wait-and-see approach.

Fried was absolutely phenomenal last season out of the bullpen in the playoffs against the Dodgers, who are also the likely opponent for Atlanta as they advance; something Snitker must keep in mind. Having Fried and Sean Newcomb at his disposal at any time against the Dodgers would be huge because they have been the two best arms against them in recent memory.

But the Braves have to win their first playoff series since 2001 first, which is easier said than done. In the latter third of games, they now have a formidable duo out of the pen, so the Braves will need their starters to get through six innings, but in the playoffs that is never a guarantee. 

Though Lance McCullers Jr. was thrown into a bullpen role in the postseason last year due to injury, I think Fried can assume a similar role — a great starter who can be deployed out of the bullpen at any time.

And I think the Braves have to try to use him in the first few games if necessary, and if used too often, turn to Teheran.

This is not a knock on Fried but rather a compliment. He has a knack for the big moment, and the Braves must do everything in their capacity to win the first few games. You have to turn to Fried over Teheran out of the bullpen if it comes down to it. Braves fans will back me up on this.

Teheran has been solid in his own right, though he has faded a bit due to a rough last few outings. The two have had comparable season, but FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) suggests that Teheran has been very lucky while Fried has actually been unlucky — which is bonkers considering he went 17-6 on the year, but he has had a ton of run support.

Gun to my head, with two fresh arms to choose from in a Game 4, I'm choosing Fried, but I think he will have to be used in the first few games of the series. I still feel that Teheran is a viable option despite his rough last few starts. 

It's a great problem to have, but don't dismiss the notion of Teheran starting a game in the NLDS. There is a solid chance that happens.

Fellow Braves fans, let's just hope the boys can win the first three games. Then we won't have to worry about it.


Matt Harrelson is the co-host of Good Morning Sandhills, lead anchor for Live at 5 and the host of The RO Sports Show, the ROSS Raider Wrap Up and ROSS Racin'.


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