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Count the Braves’ Playoff Challenges on Two Fingers

One may count the Atlanta Braves’ main 2023 playoff challenges on two fingers. Specifically, the postseason may come down to the health of starting pitchers Max Fried’s and Charlie Morton’s fingers.

Fried, the 29-year-old left-hander who missed three months earlier in the season with a left forearm strain, landed on the 15-day injured list on September 22 due to a blister on his index finger.

The next day, the 39-year-old Morton exited his start against the Nationals after only one inning with pain in his right index finger. An MRI showed it was a sprain, manager Brian Snitker said.

Postseason Concerns Loom

Familiar Feeling

The Braves have won 100 games for a second straight season. Ironically, this is the second consecutive season that starters were just before the playoffs. Last year, Fried was weakened by a stomach virus just before the NLDS against Philadelphia, and Spencer Strider was not quite recovered from an oblique injury.

Fried is expected to resume his role at the top of the rotation when the Division Series starts for the Braves on October 7. He could also make a second start in the best-of-five series.

The runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award in 2022 missed nearly three months with a forearm strain. He’s made only 14 starts in the big leagues, going 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA. He pitched in a 10-3 win over the Washington Nationals on extra rest because of the blister, which again became a problem. Fried allowed one run and three hits in six innings while striking out seven.

Morton was placed on the 15-day injured list Sunday. Therefore, the 14-game winner won’t be eligible to pitch in the NL Division Series. He won’t be eligible to come off the IL until October 7, after the Braves set their roster for the best-of-five series.

The Braves will have a playoff bye due to their ownership of the best record, which should provide healing time.

Currently, Spencer Strider (19-5) and Bryce Elder (12-4) are the only two regular starters who appear sure to pitch in the NL Division Series.

Offense is Primed and Ready

The Braves are close to clinching the best record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series. As of September 26, the playoff round magic number is three, and the World Series magic number is 4.

Sure, there’s plenty of offensive firepower on the NL’s best offense and its all-time best home run-hitting team. But a short playoff series is not kind to those who lack pitching depth.

Wanted: Starting Pitchers; Experience Preferred

The Braves have used 16 starting pitchers this season.

Among them is Allan Winans, who has bounced between the majors and Triple-A. He is among those who could get a postseason start.

Another is Kyle Wright, a 21-game winner a season ago. He missed nearly the entire season with a right shoulder strain. He rejoined the Braves two weeks ago but yielded ten runs in seven innings over two starts, prompting a shift him to the bullpen. Wright had a better outing Sunday at Washington, allowing one run over the final three innings, replacing Winans in the sixth.

Other possible starters for the playoffs include Jaret Shuster, Dylan DoddAJ Smith-Shawver, and Darius Vines. The final week of the season will serve as an audition.


Main Photo Credits: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


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