The Atlanta Braves won Game 1, but suffered a huge loss in the process. Charlie Morton was hit in the leg by a comebacker and x-rays revealed a fractured fibula that will end his season. Certainly the Braves will take the win and the 1-0 series lead, but Morton’s premature exit put the bullpen into a bit of a tight spot.
The onus is on Max Fried to keep the Houston Astros at bay in Game 2 on Wednesday night. An early exit for the ineffective Framber Valdez did level the playing field for the Braves, as Yimi Garcia and Jake Odorizzi were required to pitch 3.1 innings early in the game. It will be up to Jose Urquidy to give Houston some length and to help avoid falling into a 2-0 hole.
Game 2: Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros (-115, 8.5)
For Houston to even up the series, it will take something that the Astros did very well during the regular season and that is hitting a left-handed pitcher. The Astros were second in batting average, first in wRC +, had the lowest strikeout percentage and tied for second in on-base percentage.
Fried is not your normal run-of-the-mill southpaw, though. The 27-year-old pitched to a 3.04 ERA with a 3.31 FIP in his 165.2 innings of work during the regular season and has allowed seven runs on 19 hits with a 17/2 K/BB ratio in his 16.2 innings across three postseason starts. In seven career postseason starts and eight relief appearances, he has a 3.86 ERA with a 4.30 FIP.
Fried, like Morton, tilts to the ground ball side. He doesn’t register strikeouts at the same rate, but he does limit walks better than most pitchers. He has a standard three-pitch mix with a four-seam fastball, curveball and slider, but will also throw a sinker about 11 percent of the time. The Astros were a top-five offense against sliders during the regular season, so we may see Fried attack more with the curveball here.
It was a better pitch for Fried in terms of generating ground balls and swings and misses anyway, so that might work out in his favor. He had good results with the slider, too, and could certainly throw a lot of softer stuff at the Astros in hopes of keeping them off the fastball.
Fried would seem to have more upside than Urquidy, who is more of a fly ball pitcher that has only worked 1.2 innings this postseason. Urquidy’s season was marred by injury, as he only worked 107 innings during the regular season, but pitched well with a 3.62 ERA and a 4.14 FIP. He allowed six runs on five hits in his ALCS start against the Red Sox, so you have to wonder how effective he’ll be and how deep he can go.
The Astros likely would have wanted to have Odorizzi available in relief of Urquidy instead of Valdez, but teams have to play the cards they are dealt in the postseason and now Houston has to adjust. One concern with Urquidy here is that he does carry a low strikeout rate and allows a lot aerial contact. He is definitely a much better fit at Minute Maid Park than he was at Fenway Park and than he would be at Truist Park, so the Astros are smart to start him here. That is especially true because Yordan Alvarez has to play the field in Atlanta, which would likely send plus defensive outfielder Chas McCormick to the bench.
The Braves ranked second in HR/FB percentage during the season and also had the second-lowest ground ball percentage in baseball, trailing only the Giants. That’s why I liked Valdez and his extreme ground ball rate in Game 1, but he had no command of his curveball and struggled to keep the ball down. Urquidy’s preferred batted ball type actually plays right into what the Braves want to do offensively.
I think Houston is in serious trouble in this series after losing Game 1 and it looks like the Braves are extremely live in Game 2 as well, as they should play from in front and turn it over to a bullpen that has been very solid this postseason.
Pick: Atlanta Braves (-105)