Morton, 37, owns a 2.90 ERA in his past 10 starts. He’s struck out 74 against 18 walks in that stretch while holding opponents to a .194 average. His fastball velocity also has increased from the past two years. Based on Morton’s performance, one wouldn’t know that he is in the twilight of his career.
“Charlie, it just amazes me,” Swanson said. “I feel like I can never say enough good things about him. He just continues to go out there and perform. At his age, to continue doing what he’s doing is remarkable. His cerebral approach to the game, there’s a lot that can be learned from it. I’m thankful to be a teammate of his.”
Morton helped pitch the Rays to the World Series a year ago. He helped the Astros win it in 2017. The veteran knows what a championship-caliber club looks like, and he feels these Braves benefited from their recent stretch despite the disappointing results.
“Part of the challenge we faced earlier in the year was just getting on a roll,” Morton said. “Maybe getting a better sense of our identity as a team. We have a great clubhouse, we’ve had a great clubhouse. I’m not sure we were where we wanted to be in terms of our - let’s just say when teams get on rolls, they show up to the field and they know they’re going to win. I didn’t get the feeling we got there. And the past month or so, it’s definitely felt like that. So when we play teams that are really, really good, teams that we know are more than capable of going deep in the postseason, and we get knocked down a little bit, it’s probably - I’m not saying it’s a good thing to lose, but I think it will galvanize us a little bit.
“Coming into a place like (Dodger Stadium), coming off that series against the Yankees at home, even feeling at some points it had a little bit of a Yankee Stadium vibe to it (because of all the Yankees fans at Truist Park). It was a playoff atmosphere. Coming to (Los Angeles), the same. I think because of that, it will help galvanize us just facing those challenges. Everything isn’t easy. I think it’s good everything isn’t easy.”
In the finale of the Dodgers series, Fried kept the Braves within striking distance against Max Scherzer, the long-time Nationals ace who was dealt to Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Scherzer was masterful, striking out nine over six scoreless innings before exiting with a hamstring issue.
Fried surrendered a pair of solo homers but otherwise was excellent, holding the Dodgers to one other hit in his six innings. Scherzer’s early exit paved the way to the Braves taking a 3-2 lead in the eighth, but a questionable bullpen decision led to another loss.
“I thought it was eerily similar to Game 6 (of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers) last year,” Swanson said. “(Fried) gave up the two solo homers, but other than that, he was lights out. He was really impressive. Getting after guys, he was really convicted in his pitches and confident in what he was bringing to the table.”
Manager Brian Snitker: “God, I thought (Fried) threw the ball great. … I thought Max was really good. His slider was really good. Stuff was really good. He pitched well enough to win.”
In his past seven starts, Fried has posted a 1.76 ERA with a 46:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That includes his 90-pitch complete game in Baltimore, the finest outing of his career. Fried’s emergence is going a long way toward making the Braves’ rotation their greatest strength. In the bigger picture, he’s established himself as one of the NL’s better lefties over the past two years, over which he’s had a 3.13 ERA in 34 starts.
The Braves lost the three Dodgers games by a combined four runs. That isn’t a moral victory – there are none when you’re barely clinging to first place in the NL East and were just swept by a team that’s been a thorn in your side for several seasons – but at least Morton’s and Fried’s performances provided confirmation and comfort that they’re up for the big moments.
Last October, the Braves patched together a rotation that helped them come within one win of a World Series berth. This year, they boast a deep group of starters headed by Morton and Fried. The question to be answered in the next month: Will they get to use that rotation in October?