The irregular season ends Sept. 27. The Braves have 18 games remaining over the final 19 days. The Phillies have 21, including four doubleheaders. The Marlins have 23, also including four doubleheaders. Philly and Miami are about to play a possibly unprecedented seven-game series over five days. That cannot help but benefit the Braves.
It would still be difficult for them to finish first. They’re done with Philadelphia. Of their final 18 games, 13 are against sub-.500 teams. The other five are against the Marlins, and all of those will be staged in Cobb County. The caveat here, though, is a mighty one: Over a 60-game season, the Braves have somehow managed to run out of starting pitching, and the quickest way to lose a bunch of games in a row is to trail 4-0 every doggone night.
The Braves' starting pitching has produced the 28th-worst ERA among MLB clubs. Those starters have produced an aggregate FanGraphs WAR of 1.5. That includes Fried’s 1.8 WAR, which is sixth-best in the majors. This might be funny if it weren’t so sad: The organization that famously rebuilt around starting pitching has been reduced to giving regular turns to the likes of Tommy Milone and Robbie Erlin. Of the 11 men who’ve taken turns for the 2020 Braves, only three – Fried, Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson – have ERAs under 5.19 as a starter. Four of the 11 have ERAs in double figures.
It’s possible that almost none of the pitchers who’ll be starting games over the next week will be doing similar duty in the postseason. Fried is supposed to miss two turns. Cole Hamels is said to be close to being ready, although we’ve heard that before. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb are again trying to right themselves. (Heard that before, too.)
In a normal season, a good team that suffered so many reversals over a 44-game span would have time to correct its course. These Braves have 20 days. If the playoffs were to start today, they would be the No. 3 seed, meaning they’d get the entirety of Round 1 at home, but they’d face the No. 6 seed, which would be be the Cardinals, against whom the Braves haven’t had a lick of postseason luck this century.
Then again, the MLB postseason invariably defies handicapping, and this will be a postseason like no other. More teams. More rounds. No fans. Could a two-man rotation of Fried and Hamels carry the Braves to the World Series? Maybe. If nothing else, Hamels should be well-rested.