PHILADELPHIA – Luckily, there will be no more difficult rotation decisions. The Braves will win with the help of their top two veteran starters or go home wondering what might have happened if Spencer Strider hadn’t run out of gas.
• NLDS 4 Game: Today 14:00 ET on FS1
Strider looked both superhero and mortal as the Braves suffered a 9-1 loss to the Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Friday at Citizens Bank Park. There will be plenty of time to debate whether it should have been removed sooner than before. But for now, Atlanta needs to focus on its first elimination after Game 7 of the 2020 NL Championship Series against the Dodgers at Globe Life Field.
“We had our backs to the wall,” said Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “I think every baseball fan knows that. And we will be ready to give everything we have.”
With a Game 3 loss, the Braves are now trailing 2-1 in a best-of-five series. They never faced an elimination match in any of the three rounds they played on their way to winning the World Series last year.
History is not on the Braves’ side. In the current 2-2-1 Division Series, teams that are 2-1 and playing Game 4 at home have advanced 21 of 26 times (81%). In those 15 cases, the series ended in Game 4.
With everything at stake, the Braves might have the right people to play with. Successful postseason pitcher Charlie Morton meets Noah Syndergaard in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon, while ace Max Fried (if needed) will kick off Game 5 in Atlanta on Sunday.
“We need to get another win now,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “We have the perfect person for this. Charlie had been in the same situation many times. And we have to start running too.”
Morton has a 5.47 ERA in his first five seasons against the Phillies and has lost six times in just 4 2/3 innings here on September 25. But the 38-year veteran is a different beast in the postseason. He has a 2.51 ERA in his last 10 playoff starts and is 5-0 with a .73 ERA (two earned runs in 24 2/3 innings) in his five career playoff appearances (four starts).
After a night of draw on Wednesday, the Braves debated whether to use Strider or Morton on Saturday. The decision was not questioned as it led to the same team giving Mike Soroka just one start in the 2019 NLDS against the Cardinals. But the execution of the decision was, of course, flawed.
Strider made a total of 29 throws, allowed three strokes, and made the first two innings flawless. But for the first time since his left tilted stomach started bothering him at the start on September 18, the rookie pitcher ran out of gas for the third time. He hit four for Brandon Marsh, used 17 to get past the next two hitters, and gave a three-run homer to Rhys Hoskins with a 93.8 mph fastball — Strider’s slowest fastball this year.
Strider’s fastball averaged 98.6 mph in the first two innings and then averaged 96.4 mph as he threw it 17 times in the third round. The drop in speed is understandable considering he’s only thrown the mound twice in the last 26 days, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s not May, it’s October,” said Strider. “I played 130 innings all season. My arm used to make 100 throws every five days. This is the norm. Not that I’m gone for two months. I took six days off from throwing and then started throwing again.
But that season was why he had to have a shorter rope, or at least why the Braves had to throw someone into the bullpen after Marsh pulled a trail to open the bottom of the third.
“As good as he is, we think we can get him out,” said Snitker, who looked optimistic when he said he entered the game hoping to get four innings from Strider.
A third six-run threw Strider and knocked the Braves down as they only managed a fruitless six-inning against Aaron Nola. In fact, the most encouraging development was the fact that Jake Odorizzi devoured over three innings and ensured that Atlanta’s top players would go into Saturday with their top players rested.
High Leverage Colin McHugh, Raizel Iglesias, A.J. Minter and Closer Kenley Jansen will be available for Game 4 after at least two days of rest. This could prove significant as they may be required each of the next two days.
While the Braves are in a must-win situation that they avoided last year, they are not completely in uncharted territory. This is the same team that won the division title seven games in a row this season until August 10 for the fifth season in a row.
“Yeah, we’re on the verge of elimination, but [let’s] see what we’re made of,” said Braves third baseman Austin Riley. “We’ll see how we react. I don’t want our backs against the wall, except with this team here. We’ll see how it goes.”