Opening Day 2023 was a good news, bad news situation for the Braves. The good news is they beat the Nationals 7-2 Thursday afternoon, moving their record to 1-0, which is tied for the highest winning percentage in the history of baseball after one game, held by several other teams. The bad news is staff ace Max Fried pulled up lame in the 4th inning after covering first base and was immediately removed from the game with an apparent hamstring injury.
Listening to Fried’s post-game interview, he sounded optimistic that the slight pull he felt behind his right leg was a similar feel to other minor hamstring injuries he’s had in the past and he didn’t believe it was anything serious.
"I didn't want to come out of that game without at least trying."— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) March 30, 2023
Max Fried discusses his left hamstring injury ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/yjnIpZTdlM
Listening to Brian Snitker’s post-game interview, he took the more pragmatic view, stating plainly Fried would miss his next start, and would almost certainly end up on the 15-day Injured List, costing Fried as many as his next three starts, and maybe more.
Losing your ace to an injury on Opening Day is not good. Losing your ace to a minor injury is certainly better than losing him to a major injury, and that’s where Braves’ fans are at this point, hoping it’s relatively minor, and this will be nothing more than a small stumble that occurs at they very beginning of a 6-month marathon.
But Fried’s injury also highlights a central theme for the Braves all off-season and likely for the last several off-seasons: do not build a baseball team around one player.
Baseball is not basketball where one great player can carry you. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani are two of the very best players in the sport who also happen to play on the same team. And that team rarely wins anything. It’s just not how baseball works. Great players get 4 at-bats and a handful of defensive plays per game and that’s it. The rest is up to their teammates. Yeah, occasionally those 4 at-bats can be in high enough leverage to help decide the outcome, but usually not. Depth is everything.
And that’s where Braves fans should put most of their hope if Fried is out for a while. This team is crazy deep.
Anthopolous spent the winter telling people he doesn’t like handing out these crazy big deals because it ties too large a percentage of payroll to one player. And he wants to build a deep roster that doesn’t place too many eggs in one basket. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
The lineup is 9 deep. Really even 10, 11 or 12 deep. The Braves can roll out all sorts of lineup combinations depending on matchups and still be threat at every spot in the order. Thursday's game was another reminder of that. If Max is out for an extended time, they can beat teams with their offense. Same with their bullpen. Braves go 9 deep in the bullpen of guys they can rely on. If Max is out a month, they can throw a below average starter in his spot and rely on their bullpen and offense to cover up the difference. Remember, the Braves had a hole at the back of their rotation for 2 months last season and still won 101 games and the division. And Spencer Strider can cover things at the top of the rotation while Fried is out. It’s a beautiful thing, depth.
And the Braves have it.
So, yes, the Fried injury sucks. But also highlights the importance of building depth. The Braves aren’t screwed because Max may miss a few starts. They have enough talent everywhere else to cover it up for a while.