‘That starting pitching is what you ride’: Right now, Braves’ starters are paving the way for success

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

NEW YORK – In recent weeks, whether on social media or elsewhere, the Braves’ offense – or lack thereof – has been the main talking point surrounding the team. It is a fair one, considering Atlanta’s lineup has not yet performed up to its potential.

To focus solely on that, though, is to ignore something else: The Braves have been in almost every game because of their pitching – particularly their starting pitching. Their starters have, for the most part, strung together one good outing after another.

“And we have to do that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after a recent game. “That’s something that’s gotta be a common thread in what we’re doing if we’re gonna be successful. That starting pitching is what you ride. If you’re piecemealing games together and having to cover a lot of innings, it’s not gonna end well. You can have all the offense you want and lead in everything. If you don’t pitch and you don’t have good starting pitching, it’s all for naught.

“And our guys have been great. They’ve been doing an outstanding job. You’re gonna lose some close games, you’re gonna go on stretches where you don’t score. But as long as that pitching gives you a chance, that’s all part of it. It’s been really good, and I expect it to continue.”

On Saturday, Max Fried provided the latest gem: Seven hitless innings to begin what almost became the Braves’ first no-hitter since 1994. And Fried’s terrific performance continued a trend for the Braves.

Entering Sunday’s series finale in New York, the Braves’ starting pitchers had posted a 2.84 ERA – the fourth-best mark in baseball – over the team’s last 25 games, dating to April 12. Despite their offense batting .232 with a .685 OPS and averaging only 4.28 runs per game during this stretch, the Braves went 17-8 in those contests.

On offense, hitters can feed off one another. Hitting, they say, is contagious.

It appears the same can be said for the starters.

“I think that’s real,” Snitker said before Saturday’s game. “That little inner competition and things like that, I’ve seen that happen a number of times where it’s like, (guys) are just gonna keep handing that baton off. And I think it’s a real thing.”

On Sunday, Bryce Elder allowed two runs over 5 1/3 innings in an eventual loss to the Mets.

Within this run, Fried has provided the most encouragement. Following two rough starts to begin the season, the left-hander has a 1.79 ERA over his last six starts. Twice in this time, he has put together a no-hit bid of at least six innings. Three times, he’s had at least six shutout innings.

He is back.

“We’re keeping our head down and just making strides every outing,” Fried said after Saturday’s masterpiece. “Just trying to get a little bit better, a little bit more consistent. Still feel like my command’s been off, I’ve been walking a lot of guys. But all in all, I feel like I’m changing speeds and more importantly, I’m keeping the team in the game more often than that. Those first two (outings, I) really put us in a hole, and it really stuck with me.”

This roll hasn’t been limited to the starters. The Braves’ pitching staff, as a whole, came into Sunday with a 2.78 ERA since April 12, which ranked third in the sport behind the Dodgers (2.55) and Mariners (2.65). In the last 25 games before the series finale against the Mets, the Braves’ bullpen had a 2.68 ERA, which was the fourth-best mark in baseball.

Yes, the Braves are known for their ability to hit home run after home run. They’ll certainly blast many of them, and score tons of runs, this season.

And if their pitching continues to perform somewhere near its current level, they’re going to win a lot of games again.

Encouraging update on Pierce Johnson

Snitker on Sunday said he accidentally mixed up the days on Johnson’s progression: The reliever didn’t throw on Friday, but he threw a bullpen session on Sunday and it went “really well,” the manager said.

Johnson is eligible to come off the injured list on Thursday, but the Braves are off that day.

“I’m just really glad it wasn’t anything more than just some soreness or inflammation, whatever,” Snitker said. “We got it calmed down and they said he threw the ball really well (Sunday) in his side, which is really good. You’re always scared about something that’s lingering and (that) they do this step like (Sunday) and still feel some residual effects, but he didn’t. So that’s good.”

Probable pitching matchups for Cubs series

On Monday, the Braves and Cubs will begin a three-game series at Truist Park.

The probable pitching matchups are as follows:

On Monday, Reynaldo López and his 1.53 ERA will go up against left-hander Shota Imanaga and his 1.08 ERA.

On Tuesday, Chris Sale will face right-hander Jameson Taillon, who is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA.

On Wednesday, Charlie Morton will start for Atlanta. The Cubs haven’t yet named a starting pitcher.