We’re about to see the Braves deploy pitchers in bulk

10/27/21 - Houston - Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee delivers to a Houston Astros batter during the sixth inning in game 2 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Wednesday October 27, 2021, in Houston, Tx. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
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10/27/21 - Houston - Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee delivers to a Houston Astros batter during the sixth inning in game 2 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, Wednesday October 27, 2021, in Houston, Tx. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Don’t say you weren’t warned. As Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Wednesday’s Game 2: “The bullpen’s going to play a big part obviously in what we’ve got going on because we lost a huge starter. We’re going to have probably two games in a row that we’re going to pitch 18 innings out of that bullpen.”

A few months ago, such a proclamation would have set off a civic gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth. (Or is it the other way around? I get confused.) As happens every baseball season, we hated the Braves’ bullpen until the bullpen became one of this team’s undeniable strengths. Any list of postseason stalwarts would include Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter and Will Smith. Those, however, are the endgame guys. If we take Snitker at his word, the Braves will trot out relievers for the first pitch in Games 4 and 5.

And that’s different, though not without precedence. The Braves got consecutive starts from Bryse Wilson, who no longer works here, and Minter in Games 4 and 5 of last season’s National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. They won Wilson’s start, taking a 3-1 lead, and they led Minter’s start with 10 outs to go. Then Will Smith yielded a home run to, er, Will Smith, and the clinching was put on hold. Forever, as it turned out.

The Braves started Jesse Chavez in Game 4 of the 2021 NLCS, also against the Dodgers. Five more relievers were deployed, including Drew Smyly, Chris Martin, Minter, Matzek and Smith. The Braves won 9-2. Three days later, they were World Series-bound.

That remains the only time in this postseason that the Braves have turned to an “opener” in a full-blown bullpen game. Such a ploy can and has worked. It needs to work now.

Charlie Morton suffered a broken fibula in Game 1. Max Fried had a difficult outing in Game 2, though Snitker said afterward: “I’m having a hard time convincing myself that he struggled.” This was Fried’s fourth start of October. He was great in Game 2 in Milwaukee. He has been less great with every subsequent turn. His team trailed 5-1 on Wednesday after two innings. It lost 7-2.

Morton won’t pitch again this season. (When last spotted, he was headed to Green Bay, Wis., for medical evaluation. Up there, they offer free cheese curds to everyone who lies still for an MRI.) The World Series could have as many as five games to go. Ian Anderson will start Game 3 on Friday at Truist Park. Beyond that … well, as Louis XV said, “Apres moi, le deluge.” It means, “After me, the flood.”

The Braves won’t be using only their best relievers. They’ll need innings from Dylan Lee, who made two big-league regular-season appearances before working twice more in the postseason; Tucker Davidson, summoned off the taxi squad in Gwinnett to fill Morton’s roster spot, and Kyle Wright, who also worked twice in the bigs this season but who struck out three Astros in the eighth inning of Game 2. (Never mind that the Astros were in let’s-get-this-over-with mode by then.)

Wright had a fine start last October, going six scoreless innings in the Division Series clincher against the Marlins. His next appearance came against the Dodgers. He didn’t make it through the first inning. L.A. scored seven of its 11 first-inning runs off him. Before Wednesday’s eighth inning, Wright hadn’t pitched in a major-league game since June 23, when the Mets scored five runs in the first two innings.

Lee, Wright and Davidson covered an aggregate 30 innings during the regular season, which would be a slow week for Matzek. Snitker again: “It was really good tonight to get Lee in this game, to get Kyle in this game. I didn’t really want to pitch Tucker. He threw yesterday at our site. I was very impressed with Tucker when he got his first call-up this year. The moment didn’t seem to matter to him. He was very impressive, how he went about it. Those guys are going to have to play a big part in this.”

The Braves need to win three more games. Assuming neither side clinches in Game 5, Anderson figures to get two starts. Fried was asked Wednesday about working on short rest. He didn’t seem enthused by the prospect. “We’ll see how I feel over the next couple of days,” he said. “But (I’m) not against it.”

As of Tuesday, the Braves believed they’d have to cobble together only one bullpen game if the Series goes the distance. They’re surely going to need two now. That might sound ominous. It wasn’t ominous to Snitker, who saw opportunity in the usage of unknown entities.

“There’s not a whole lot (of information) on them,” he said. “I know in the big leagues these guys like to see a guy for a while. They can see video, but until they get in that box and face him, that unknown is probably a good thing in this situation, if the guy on that mound can handle it, and those guys have all showed they can.”

Showed, yes, but in small and well-spaced dosages. Nobody figured Lee and/or Wright and/or Davidson would become key men in this World Series. At the All-Star break, nobody would have foreseen a lineup including Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario. Those guys made up 44% of the Braves’ batting order in Games 1 and 2.

At figuring things out on the fly, this team already is a champ. If you’re in search of a happy thought, that should suffice.

Davidson had barely touched down in Houston on Wednesday before he was on the podium for pregame interviews. “(Had) you told me June 15 when I got hurt that I’d be a consideration for the World Series, I would probably have said you’re lying,” he said, but there he was. There’s a good chance he’ll have pitched in the World Series before the weekend is done.

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