Suddenly Braves, not Dodgers, have their pitching in good shape

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Bryse Wilson and catcher Travis d'Arnaud celebrates celebrates the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of a baseball National League Championship Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Credit: Tony Gutierrez

Credit: Tony Gutierrez

The Braves are one win away from the World Series in large part because rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson pitched brilliantly in the biggest game of his life. Not only did Wilson’s six-inning, one-hit, one-run performance set the stage for the 10-2 victory Thursday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, but it also gave manager Brian Snitker more room to line up his pitchers optimally for the rest of the series.

Obviously, the Braves hope to end the NLCS with a victory in Game 5 late Friday night. After the Braves won Game 4, Snitker wasn’t ready to say how he’ll deploy his pitchers. He decided to patch together a so-called bullpen game with A.J. Minter as the opening pitcher. That won’t be easy.

Minter has never pitched more than 1 1/3 innings in 14 games as a professional (postseason included). Sniter will need to make multiple decisions about the right times to deploy relievers. The three-batter minimum complicates the decision. The Braves have pitched very well in the series, but the Dodgers showed late in Game 3 and early in Game 4 that they can slug and erupt for runs.

Still, in a surprising development it’s Snitker, not Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who now has more flexibility with his pitchers.

Pitching depth seemed to be in favor of the Dodgers before the series. The Braves narrowed that gap by winning games 1 and 2. The Dodgers righted things by beating up on right-hander Kyle Wright in Game 3. But the advantage shifted back to the Braves when they hammered all-time great lefty Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 while Wilson dominated a great lineup filled with lefty hitters.

That development made one decision easier for Snitker. He announced before Game 4 that No. 1 starter Max Fried wouldn’t come back for Game 5 on short rest. Wilson’s performance eliminated any temptation for Snitker and pitching coach Rick Kranitz to change their minds. Another bonus is that Braves relievers are fresh for Game 5, so they can be used as needed without much worry about saving arms for Game 6 if necessary.

Three relievers didn’t pitch in games 3 or 4: Minter, closer Mark Melancon and right-hander Darren O’Day. Four others had brief stints in Game 4: Will Smith (26 pitches), Chris Martin (18), Tyler Matzek (17) and Shane Greene (14). Greene is the only one among them that also pitched in Game 3.

The bullpen is ready to cover innings in Game 5. If the Braves don’t win, they can try again with Fried in Game 6. He held the Dodgers to a run over six innings in Game 1 on Monday. Ian Anderson, who was effective in Game 2, is available for Game 7 if needed.

Even if the Braves' bullpen were short for Game 5, keeping Fried on regular rest likely would be the right call. It’s probably better for Snitker to rely on a good bullpen filled with veterans rather than send out his young starter in a potentially disadvantageous situation.

The statistical calculations in “The Book” showed that starting pitchers perform worse on three days' rest instead of the typical four. There are many variables to consider with the pitchers who’ve done it. But there are signals that starting pitchers with three days’ rest fare better than those with four (and that five days is best of all, but more is detrimental).

As for the postseason, a Baseball Reference search shows there have been 163 games in which pitchers started on short rest in the wild-card era (since 1995). In 85 of those games the starter pitched at least four innings with a minimum Game Score of at 50, which is considered average under a formula created by Bill James.

There have been 46 postseason games during that time in which starters pitched four innings at a Game Score of 60 or more and 16 games with five innings or 70 or higher. Essentially, there’s been more than a 50 percent chance of getting an average start per Game Score from a postseason starter on short rest but only a 38 percent chance of a good start or better.

Keep in mind, that sample includes a lot of established aces. Those are the type of pitchers that managers typically call on to start crucial games on short rest. Plenty of those front-line starters had bad outings under those tough circumstance in recent years, including Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Trevor Bauer.

Of course, Snitker can’t only use the history of all pitchers to make a call on Fried. He also must consider the individual. (“The Book” notes that former Braves great Greg Maddux had better results on three days' rest instead of four.) No one has more information about Fried’s ability to come back on short rest than Fried, Snitker and Kranitz.

In addition to a strong bullpen, the Braves have starter Kyle Wright available as an emergency option. He gave up seven runs in Game 3 while recording just two outs. Wright threw only 28 pitches Wednesday, so Snitker said he physically should be fine to pitch again in the NLCS.

Wright seemed to have the right attitude after his bad night. He said he didn’t want to forget his performance but learn from it. Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who also played with Wright at Vanderbilt, said Wright should be fine.

“He’s such a great competitor and a phenomenal learner,” Swanson said following Game 3. “Anybody in this game, it’s always a learning experience. It’s a hard game when you are competing against the best players in the world.”

Wright’s Game 4 performance is an outlier among young Braves starters in this postseason. Fried, Anderson, Wright and Wilson have combined to make nine starts in these playoffs. Seven of those starts were effective. Four of those outings were for at least six innings with no runs allowed.

Fried, 26, is the oldest among the starters. Wright is 25. Anderson and Wilson are 22. Veteran Martin has marveled at how the young pitchers have responded to high-pressure situations so early in their careers.

“Honestly, I have no idea (how they do it),” Martin said. "The Braves are doing a good job of finding these guys. I’ve been very impressed with these guys coming up. I know I wasn’t that way.

“They aren’t fazed, they are confident in what they can do and they go out there and show it.”

Now the Braves have their pitching in better shape than the Dodgers with the World Series on the line.

About the Author

In Other News