Bradley’s Buzz: So much depends on the Braves’ rebuilt rotation

Charlie Morton and Chris Sale will join Spencer Strider (right) in Braves' starting pitching rotation.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/

Credit: Hyosub Shin/

Charlie Morton and Chris Sale will join Spencer Strider (right) in Braves' starting pitching rotation.

We forget now, but the Braves appeared to get lucky last October. Their best-of-five NLDS against Philadelphia was assigned an extra off-day. A team low on starting pitching — Bryce Elder had a rough second half; Charlie Morton was out with a sore finger; Max Fried was coming off a blister — could have deployed Spencer Strider and Fried twice each on full rest.

Could have, we emphasize. There was no Game 5. The Braves lost in four.

Something else we forget: Philly’s one loss came in Zack Wheeler’s only start, the Braves overriding a 4-0 deficit. But the Phillies prevailed on both Strider-vs.-Ranger Suarez nights, and they won the essential Game 3, which matched Aaron Nola, who’d had a down season, against Elder.

This part we remember: The Braves announced their Game 3 starter six hours before the first pitch, choosing Elder over the rookie AJ Smith-Shawver. Three months earlier, Elder had been an All-Star. For a while, he led the National League in ERA. His second-half ERA was 5.11. His September WHIP was 1.658. Come October, the Braves weren’t sure they could trust him with a playoff start.

This isn’t to say that the Braves lost because of Elder. (We say again: Strider was 0-2 in his starts, his team scoring a total of one run.) But the series turned in the bottom of the third of Game 3. It began with Elder holding a 1-0 lead. It ended with the Phillies leading 6-1.

The Braves are set to begin a new season without Elder on their big-league roster. That doesn’t mean they’ve given up on him. It does mean they’ve achieved their offseason goal of fortifying a rotation that, over the second half of an otherwise giddy season, ceased to rotate.

Their starters’ post-All-Star ERA was 5.10, sixth-worst in the majors. The record didn’t suffer much — they finished with 104 wins, an MLB best — but winning became contingent on outslugging the other team. Having an offense of historic proportions, the 2023 Braves were capable of that in September. Nobody hits quite as much in October.

The Braves clinched the East by taking three of four in Philadelphia. Aggregate score: Braves 26, Philly 22. Over four playoff games, they were outscored by the same team 20-8.

Alex Anthopoulos didn’t spend his entire offseason in pursuit of starting pitching — the GM found time to land Jarred Kelenic, who’ll start in left field, and (yet again) Adam Duvall — but that was Job 1. In November, the Braves signed Reynaldo Lopez, who’d started one MLB game since 2021, for $30 million over three years. The price was the tipoff. That’s a lot to pay for a non-closer reliever; it’s not excessive for a potential starter, which is how the Braves viewed Lopez.

Forty days later, the Braves sent Vaughn Grissom, prized young hitter, to Boston for Chris Sale, once among the sport’s best pitchers. Sale turns 35 this week. He has started 31 games since 2019. There’s no guarantee he’ll be as great as he was — the Red Sox were willing to pay $17M for him to go away — but he’s another in the series of Anthopoulos value plays, many of which have panned out. And, for what’s it worth, Sale had an encouraging spring.

As we speak, the Braves have a nice-looking rotation: Strider, Fried, Morton, Sale and Lopez. This does not, however, figure to be a rotation of long standing. Fried and Morton could be gone come 2025. Possible replacements include youngsters Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep. Elder can’t be written off.

Per Spotrac, the Braves’ payroll has risen to $224M, fifth-highest in the majors. Remove Fried and Morton and the team is still committed to $198M for 2025. Getting good costs money. Staying good costs a fortune. For all these splendid position players under long-term contracts, we saw last fall what can happen if you’re short on pitching.

Credit Anthopoulos for doing his bit to make sure — or as sure as anyone can be, given that arms are fragile — such a thing won’t happen again. That said, what we saw over this offseason could become an annual winter pursuit, which shouldn’t surprise us. Nobody ever has enough ... well, you know.

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