The beginning of the World Series is a day away. The Astros’ season-long pursuit of a world championship is nearing its end. Their goal is but four wins away. The team standing in the way is not one that was forecast to be here.
After a two-decade drought, the Braves have returned to the Fall Classic after defeating the Dodgers in six games, and it’s primarily thanks to their left-handed pitching. Starter Max Fried and relievers Will Smith, Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter have pitched 41 1⁄3 innings combined this postseason. Collectively, their ERA is 1.96.
Fried has again been the ace of the Braves playoff rotation as he was in 2020. A substandard outing in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series snapped a streak of 14 consecutive quality starts that began in July. The 27-year-old former first-round pick completed six innings in each of his two prior postseason outings, allowing just two runs total. Old friend Charlie Morton is the only other Braves starter who’s managed to go six innings in a start this month.
Smith, Matzek and Minter, on the other hand, have been practically invincible out of the bullpen, yielding just 2 earned runs in their 24 2⁄3 innings of work. Their dominance was on full display in Game 6 of the NLCS, as they combined to record the final 15 outs in immaculate fashion, with 10 of them coming via the strikeout.
Atlanta’s pitching staff has relied heavily on their brilliant quartet of southpaws. And now they’re due to face one of the best lefty-hitting lineups in baseball.
According to Baseball Savant, in the regular season, the Astros were fourth in wOBA and third in Expected wOBA (xwOBA) against lefties. Alex Bregman, José Altuve and Carlos Correa have fared markedly better against opposite-side pitching throughout their careers, and this year, left-handed hitters Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez hit same-side pitching extremely well, ranking first and second respectively in terms of batting average (min. 200 plate appearances).
The Astros offense has already had success during this playoff run against high-quality lefty hurlers: Boston’s Chris Sale, who appeared to be fairly healthy in what was his third month of big-league action after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020, as well as White Sox flamethrowers Carlos Rodón, Garrett Crochet and Aaron Bummer.
Fried is slated to start Game 2 with Morton scheduled to be on the bump for Game 1. Given that these are the final games of the year, one or more members of Atlanta’s vaunted relief trio could appear in every contest, and their lanky southpaw ace might also pitch on short rest as the series progresses. Facing them will be the final test of the year for the Astros’ potent lineup, and perhaps fittingly, it could be their most challenging.
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