The Atlanta Braves could punch their ticket to the World Series tonight. Let that sink in.
This dynamic team has done it on the backs of their elite offense and bullpen and gutsy performances by a very young rotation. After the 26-year-old grizzled veteran who looks like he doesn’t have to shave, Max Fried, the Braves have started 3 straight rookies against a brutal Dodgers lineup and won 2 out of 3 of those games.
However, with Mike Soroka out and the Braves not acquiring rotation help at the trade deadline, Braves’ fans knew that Games 4 and 5 would require some patchwork and heavy reliance on the bullpen.
Enter Bryse Wilson. The 22-year-old rookie outdueled future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw and dominated a very hot Los Angeles offense. After national analysts’ claim of the Dodgers’ “momentum” at the end of Game 3 and the drubbing in Game 4, some thought the Braves were dead in the water going into Game 4. Wilson proved them wrong and made possibly the most valuable performance of the series so far.
Serious question: Are the Braves done? I kinda think they might be.— Jason Foster (@ByJasonFoster) October 14, 2020
Game 5 presents Brian Snitker with a challenge, though. He is already on the record as saying that Max Fried will not start on short rest in Game 5. Snitker could certainly change his mind after winning Game 4. However, the Dodgers would now have to beat both Fried and Ian Anderson to avoid elimination, so why not have those two at their best.
Snitker will have some options for Game 5. Working off the premise that Fried would start a potential Game 6 and Anderson in Game 7 (and exclude Wilson), there are only 3 other pitchers on the active roster who have started games for the Braves this season: Kyle Wright, Josh Tomlin, and Huascar Ynoa.
Tomlin has been a phenomenal mentor to the Braves’ young staff, but his on-the-field performance has left plenty of room for improvement. He allowed the Dodgers to make things interesting in Game 2 by giving up 3 runs on 3 hits in 0.2 innings. Tomlin’s 87 mph cutter got destroyed by Dodgers hitters, as they hit a single, double, and homerun off of it in the ninth inning of Game 2. Tomlin might be needed at some point in Game 5, but one would hope that there are better options to start.
Ynoa threw brilliantly in Game 3, providing 4 scoreless innings when the Braves desperately needed someone to eat innings. While it’s difficult to say that any pitcher is truly unavailable in a game that could punch a ticket to the World Series, Ynoa threw 92 pitches on Wednesday. That’s 18 more pitches than Wilson threw in his 6-inning start last night. It’s not impossible that Ynoa would enter Game 5, but he’s probably your last resort. Even if he does pitch, it likely won’t be for more than an inning.
This might be difficult to swallow, but the Braves should start Wright in Game 5, in my opinion. Yes, he got rocked to the tune 7 earned runs in only 0.2 innings in Game 3, but I like silver linings. Wright only threw 28 pitches. And if the Braves want to win a World Series, they’re going to need Wright.
Wright certainly seemed rattled in the first inning of Game 3, but the effect had seemingly worn off by the end of the game, as he genuinely seemed eager to get back on the mound.
"You can either feel sorry for yourself or find a way to bounce back. I'm taking whatever I can from that one and learning and being better for the next outing is what I'm going to do."— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) October 15, 2020
— @Braves starter Kyle Wright pic.twitter.com/25xZcR9kXr
I would rather have Wright be able to build back some confidence in Game 5 than have that outing linger going into the World Series. He would have a strong bullpen behind him if he gets in trouble and well-rested Fried and Anderson in subsequent games to clinch. And if Wright has a positive outing to clinch the NLCS, he will have ample confidence heading into the World Series.
Here is how much rest each reliever has had going into Game 5:
Relievers with 2 days rest: O’Day, Minter, Tomlin, Melancon
Relievers with 1 day rest: Dayton, Ynoa, Webb
Reliever who pitched last night: Smith, Martin, Matzek, Greene
Relievers who have thrown in last 2 consecutive games: Greene
As mentioned, Ynoa threw 92 pitches on Wednesday and should be a last resort for Snitker. Greene has pitched in back-to-back games, but he had 5 off-days before that. If the Braves have a chance to clinch the series tonight, you have to believe Greene will be available.
Matzek has been phenomenal for the Braves, pitching 6.1 shutout innings and racking up 11 strikeouts this postseason. He can provide multiple innings, having done so in 12 of his 21 regular season outings this year. Starting Matzek and letting the Braves’ deep bullpen, which is surprisingly well-rested, is a viable option for the Braves in Game 5.
The one downside to a bullpen game is that it could limit some relievers’ availability and effectiveness later in the series if they aren’t able to clinch in Game 5. But the shortened season this year could make that less of a concern.
Regardless of Snitker’s decision, the Braves are well-positioned to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1999.