After starting improbable rookie pitchers the past two games, the Braves will turn to one of baseball’s best arms of 2021 for World Series Game 6 on Tuesday night in Houston.
Max Fried has the credentials of a prototypical World Series starter: He was 14-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 28 games during the regular season, including 8-2 with an MLB-low 1.74 ERA after the All-Star break.
“I think as a kid you look forward to winning the World Series and contributing in any way,” Fried said Monday. “To be able to be here in this moment, I’m just extremely thankful and honestly ready to go.”
Going into the highest-stakes start of his career, Fried seeks to bounce back from disappointing performances in his past two postseason games, both of which the Braves lost. He allowed 11 runs and 15 hits in 9-2/3 innings across those starts -- results quite different than the Braves have come to expect from the 27-year-old left-hander.
“Any time that you go out there and you don’t perform the way you want (and) you don’t win, you want to go back out there and redeem yourself,” Fried said. “I’m ready to go out there and leave it all out on the field.
“I’m going to go out there and do what I do. I’m going to be myself and just try to pitch my game and help us win this ballgame.”
In World Series Game 2, Fried allowed six runs and seven hits in five-plus innings, with most of the Astros’ damage being done in the second inning when they scored four runs on five well-placed, mostly-soft-contact singles. In his start before that, Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, Fried allowed five runs and eight hits, including two home runs, in 4-2/3 innings
“I think he’s been off a little bit the last couple of times, hasn’t been himself,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Monday. “I expect to see Max on top of his game (Tuesday night). I expect that every time he goes out. I mean, this guy, probably since the All-Star break, was one of the best pitchers in the game, so that’s kind of the version of Max that I expect to see.”
The Braves, who lead the best-of-seven World Series three games to two, certainly need the Fried of the second half of the regular season. A win in Game 6 would mean a championship, while a loss would mean Game 7 on Wednesday. Ian Anderson, who pitched five hitless innings in Game 3, is scheduled to start Game 7 for the Braves if necessary.
Credit: Curtis Compton
Credit: Curtis Compton
“I always feel good when Max pitches, and we’re in a good spot right now with Ian on tap,” Snitker said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Max and (am) looking forward to watching him go.”
The Braves have gotten only 14-2/3 innings from their starting pitchers in the first five games of the series, an average of just under three innings per start. In Games 4 and 5, starters Dylan Lee and Tucker Davidson lasted only a combined 2-1/3 innings: Lee 1/3 of an inning on Saturday and Davidson two innings on Sunday. That wildly improbable duo had a combined total of five prior major-league starts (all by Davidson).
Although the bullpen should benefit from Monday’s day off and also from three high-leverage relievers not being used in Sunday’s loss, it certainly would benefit the Braves to get six or so effective innings from Fried.
Snitker said he can tell that Fried is excited about the responsibility he shoulders. Already the staff co-ace, his role atop the rotation became even more crucial when the Braves lost Charlie Morton to a broken leg early in the first game of the World Series.
“I think Max is relishing in (the responsibility),” Snitker said. “I think he’s excited about it. I think he’s ready for that. I can just tell during the games, talking to him the last couple nights on the bench. I think he’s really looking forward to this opportunity. He’s right where he needs to be in his career. He’s grown so much. He’s matured.”
Fried will carry 16 games of postseason experience into the start. He appeared in eight games out of the bullpen in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs and has started eight games in the 2020 and 2021 postseasons. His career postseason record is 1-3 with a 4.53 ERA.
In his first two starts this postseason, the results were good: He pitched six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against Milwaukee in Game 2 of an NL Division Series and held the Dodgers to two runs in six innings, albeit on eight hits, in Game 1 of the NLCS. The Braves won both of those games.
His next two starts produced unexpectedly lesser performances, but now Fried has one more start to make this year, the biggest one of all.
“It’s going to be really energetic,” he said of the environment in Minute Maid Park. “Their fans are going to bring it. They’re a really good team. They’ve been here before, and they’re not going to let up, so you know you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game. I’m ready for the challenge.”
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