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How Does Atlanta Handle Its Pitching Going Forward?

The task ahead: Navigate MLB's top-scoring team using a two-man rotation and a bullpen that's already heavily relied-upon.

HOUSTON — The Braves know that their starter for Game 3 of the World Series will be Ian Anderson. After that … well, it’s complicated.

The team has been forced to reimagine itself without Charlie Morton, who fractured his leg in Game 1, leaving an ace-sized, roster-destabilizing hole. It is impossible to truly replace him. So Atlanta will have to work around him—which could mean managing the series with not just one bullpen game, but two, and on back-to-back nights. That’s not ideal. It certainly isn’t the sort of maneuver this roster is built for. But it just might be the best path forward under the present constraints.

Manager Brian Snitker conceded as much Wednesday night.

“We’re going to have probably two games in a row that we’re going to have to—we’re going to pitch 18 innings out of that bullpen,” he said after the Braves’ 7–2 loss in Game 2. “It’s kind of like the whole roster is going to have to be used just because of the situation we’re in. It happens. So we’ll just try and piece it together the best we can.”

Oct 27, 2021; Houston, TX, USA;  Atlanta Braves pitcher Kyle Wright (30) throws a pitch against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in game two of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park.

Atlanta righthander Kyle Wright

Morton’s injury has left the Braves with only two real starters: Max Fried, who took the loss in Game 2, and Anderson, who will pitch Game 3. (Any hopes for additional depth here were lost when Huascar Ynoa hurt his shoulder in the NLCS.) To state the obvious, that’s a difficult way to navigate a playoff series, particularly one against a lineup as loaded as Houston’s. But it does leave a few options on the table. There is a chance that Fried could go on short rest for Game 5; when asked Wednesday, he said, “We’ll see how I feel over the next couple of days, but [I’m] not against it.” Or instead of a true bullpen game, Atlanta could try to get a start from someone like Kyle Wright or Tucker Davidson, young pitchers who are currently in the 'pen after spending most of this year in the Triple A rotation.

But Snitker’s answer Wednesday seemed to indicate he was leaning toward bullpen days for both Game 4 and Game 5. (Which, it’s worth noting, still easily could be started by Wright or Davidson—given the quick hooks and general flattening of pitching staffs that we now tend to see in October, “a bullpen game” and “a short start” can sometimes be separated by only semantics.) That means Atlanta will need to hope it can maximize what it gets from Anderson in Game 3. It might also need to count on some serious contributions from the least experienced members of its staff—some of whom had a chance to get their feet wet Wednesday.

The Braves have relied heavily all postseason on their group of talented set-up men: A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson. All pitched more than an inning in Game 1, so Snitker did not touch them in Game 2. Instead, with the team already in a deep hole in the early innings, Atlanta chose to rest those established relievers and try out some of the younger pitchers who might suddenly be needed more going forward. Dylan Lee, who made his major league debut on Oct. 1, was brought in with two men on in the sixth inning. Wright, who had not pitched in the majors since June, was given the eighth.

Neither had been expected to make his presence felt much in the World Series. But the circumstances have changed, and so Game 2 provided a chance for them to get their first Fall Classic appearances out of the way before they’re needed in the bullpen games ahead.

“It was really good tonight to get Lee in this game, to get Kyle in this game,” Snitker said. “Those guys are going to have to play a big part in this.”

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Wright stood out in particular. He needed only 12 pitches to strike out the side—including Jose Altuve, who got his groove back earlier in the game after some help from Reggie Jackson.

“He did a tremendous job,” said catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “He was locating, his sinker was moving a lot, his curveball was moving a lot.”

The Braves’ situation isn’t helped by the fact that the series is now moving from Houston to Atlanta—meaning that they will lose the designated hitter right at the moment where they would most prefer not to have to account for the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. This is not where they wanted to be. Yet this is where they are—down an ace, up a quandary and trying to plot out where they go from here.

“Yeah, we were kind of dealt a bad hand,” Snitker said. “We’ll keep going. We’re going to keep going, and we’ll figure this thing out somehow.”

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