Chris Sale is latest Braves starter to have good outing. Will it last?

Atlanta Braves pitcher Chris Sale delivers to a Texas Rangers batter during the first inning at Truist Park, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves pitcher Chris Sale delivers to a Texas Rangers batter during the first inning at Truist Park, Friday, April 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Watch the Braves for a week and you’ll see three, maybe four good outings from starting pitchers. Fans got one of the good ones on Friday night. Left-hander Chris Sale was dominant before giving back a two-run lead. That didn’t matter once catcher Travis d’Arnaud smashed a grand slam to send the Braves on their way to an 8-3 victory over the Rangers at Truist Park.

Braves starting pitchers began the weekend with a 4.93 ERA, fifth worst in MLB. That number was down to 4.85 after Sale allowed three runs over six innings. It might go back up when Charlie Morton and Darius Vines take their turns against Texas to finish out the series. The outlook for Braves starters is day-to-day until someone other than Reynaldo López puts together a string of good starts.

Maybe this was the start of something for Sale. The light-hitting Marlins tagged him for five runs on Saturday. The Rangers got a double and homer off Sale but their other three hits came on weak contact. Sale threw 21 first-strike pitches, got ahead in the count a total of 46 times and struck out seven hitters while walking one.

“To be honest, nobody cares,” Sale said, referring to d’Arnaud’s three-homer night.

He was joking. Plenty of people care about the state of the Braves’ pitching after ace Spencer Strider suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The Braves keep winning, anyway — Friday’s victory was their fifth straight — but the winning won’t last if the pitching doesn’t improve.

Veteran starters Max Fried and Morton are producing results below expectations. López, a converted reliever, has been so good (0.50 ERA in three starts) that even he’s surprised. The fifth slot will be manned by call-ups until one of them sticks. Allan Winans couldn’t do it last week. Vines was next in line and allowed a run over 4 2/3 inning.

Strider’s injury was rotten luck for the Braves because starting pitching is the team’s thinnest group. They have capable backups to fill in for catcher Sean Murphy and second baseman Ozzie Albies. See d’Arnaud’s big night on Friday and Luis Guillorme’s two-run double in Houston on Tuesday.

The pitching needs a similar boost. It helps that Sale got back on track. Fried was good in his third start and solid in his fourth after beginning the year with back-to-back duds. Perhaps we’ll eventually see all the veteran starters find their footing at the same time, making Strider’s absence manageable.

“These guys don’t need me to win a World Series,” Strider said before Friday’s game.

Modesty aside, there’s some truth to what Strider said. The Braves have won it all before with patchwork pitching.

The 2021 Braves went on a run to win the Series while getting important innings from inexperienced starters and relievers. The past two Braves teams seemingly had better pitching, but the Phillies beat up their starters, including Strider. The postseason is unpredictable that way.

The challenge for the Braves will be getting their starting pitchers to October in good health and good form. That hasn’t happened in the past two seasons. Adding Sale in an offseason trade made the group older with more injury risk. Sale, 35, pitched just 151 innings total over the past three seasons.

Sale had a 4.30 ERA in 20 starts for the Red Sox last season. He was one of the MLB’s best pitchers from 2012-2018. No one can reasonably expect him to be that good now. The Braves need him to be effective most of the time.

Sale’s poor results against the Marlins turned out to be a hiccup. D’Arnaud went down the list of the things Sale was doing right against the Rangers. He said Sale’s fastball command was good to both sides of the plate and the top of the zone, his slider was sharp inside and down and Sale located his changeup wherever he wanted.

Said d’Arnaud: “Usually, when pitchers have that much of their command, it makes for a fun day.”

The Braves need more of those from their starters. The offense can’t bail them out all the time.

Fried’s inconsistency is largely because he’s produced fewer strikeouts and more walks than usual and his best pitch, the curveball, isn’t getting good results. Morton has gotten diminishing results in three starts this season but some of his underlying numbers look good, including a low percentage of hard-hit balls. López just needs to keep doing what he’s doing—the Braves want to limit his workload, but they can’t really afford that right now.

Sale’s performance on Friday made for four straight good-to-great outings for Braves starting pitchers. That’s why they are on a season-long winning streak. If Braves starters continue their pattern, then some duds are coming. If they kick that habit, then the Braves will keep winning for weeks at a time.