Now that the Atlanta Braves have nailed down their second straight National League East championship, they can start to determine who is going to be on the postseason roster.
Part of that question could be answered Saturday when they host the San Francisco Giants in the second game of a three-game set at SunTrust Park.
The Braves will send left-hander Max Fried (16-6, 4.25 ERA) to the mound against veteran Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto (1-0, 0.00).
Fried may be pitching to determine whether he will be a starter or reliever in the postseason. After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals on Sept. 5, Fried has struggled with two subpar outings, both losses.
He allowed five runs in a five-inning start against the Philadelphia Phillies, then gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Nationals. In three September starts, Fried is 1-2 with a 6.28 ERA.
Given his recent struggles, along with the hot streak enjoyed by veteran Mike Foltynewicz, Fried could find himself out of what could be a three-man rotation for the NL Division Series. Foltynewicz threw eight scoreless innings in the division-clinching win on Friday and has won seven straight decisions.
“I think it was just one of those days,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of Fried after the Washington loss. “He was just trying to make everything happen and it wasn’t happening for him. We just cut our losses there and he’ll do it again the next time.”
It will be the third start of the season for Cueto, as he returns from Tommy John surgery. He’s been impressive so far, posting a pair of five-inning scoreless stints — against the Pirates on Sept. 10 and the Marlins on Sept. 15. In those 10 innings, Cueto has allowed only four hits, three walks and has six strikeouts.
“I don’t know if anybody expected him to get off to a start like this,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “But if you look at how he’s throwing the ball, its Johnny before the surgery.”
The Giants have been very cautious of Cueto’s workload. They had originally planned to start him every sixth day, giving him another day between starts, but opted instead to put him on a regular five-day rotation. They are limiting him to five innings and Bochy stuck to that plan last week against Miami, even though Cueto asked for more. He is currently capped at 85 pitches and the club would like him to approach 100 before the season ends.
Cueto has two seasons left on the $130 million contract he signed in 2015. His health and effectiveness could affect how aggressively the team pursues free agent Madison Bumgarner in the offseason. Cueto is scheduled to make two more starts before the season ends.
“I’m thankful that my arm feels good,” Cueto said. “I have confidence in all of my pitches.”
The Braves nailed down their 19th division championship with a 6-0 win over the Giants on Friday. That ties Atlanta with the New York Yankees for the most division championships in major league history. The Yankees won their 19th title on Thursday.
The victory also ensures the Braves of home-field advantage for the NLDS.
–Field Level Media