This week, Around the Horn checks in from the NLDS between the Brewers and Braves and offers updates on manager searches for the Padres and Mets.
In 24 innings, the starters have allowed a combined 13 hits, five runs, five walks and 31 strikeouts. Corbin Burnes continued his Cy Young campaign. Charlie Morton, besides a mistake on a 1-2 fastball to Rowdy Tellez, was brilliant. Brandon Woodruff was solid. But Max Fried was excellent and continued to establish himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball, throwing six shutout innings in a 3-0 win on Saturday.
“I’d call him the best starter in the second half,” Braves reliever Tyler Matzek said. “The best starter going down the stretch, a guy that’s been absolutely dominating in games that we need to win.”
A Brewers official added: “We were shut out by a pitcher who has been the best in the game since the All-Star break.”
The numbers back it up. Since August, Fried has a 1.35 ERA in 12 starts — the Braves have won 11 of those games — and has allowed one or fewer runs in nine of those starts. The surge can be traced back to a July 28 start against the New York Mets, where Fried said that he “would try to miss bats, I would try to be too fine. And now I’m trying to attack the zone and get weak contact. If I can get weak contact and get a groundball, for me, that’s a win. If I get a strikeout, then it’s kind of just icing on the cake.”
Fried, 27, began his ascent toward being a high-end starting pitcher when he won 17 games in 2019, adding a slider to an arsenal that already featured a plus-curveball. It’s been especially effective against right-handed hitters. Paired with his philosophical changes, he has been the Braves’ best pitcher in 2021 — and why they head to Atlanta with the NLDS tied 1-1 and with home-field advantage.
And since he only threw 81 pitches, Fried could be in line to start a potential Game 5 in Milwaukee against Burnes, the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, in a winner-take-all matchup for an NLCS date with the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers.
What’s wrong with the Brewers’ offense?
The most common analysis, in the eyes of evaluators who followed the Milwaukee Brewers in the second half of the season, went like this:
The starting pitching was a “matchup nightmare.”
The defense is elite.
The offense is their weakness and what separates them from the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Through two games, that criticism has proven valid. The Brewers have scored only three runs. The first five batters in their lineup have combined to hit 6-for-36 with one home run and 19 strikeouts. Has it been the product of an offense whose .741 OPS in the second half ranks 15th in baseball or have Charlie Morton and Max Fried just been that good?
Perhaps it’s both. But it’s not like the Brewers’ offense is untalented. They have four starters who hit at least 20 home runs this season, with Kolten Wong hitting 14 out of the leadoff spot. They have at least one of Rowdy Tellez and Daniel Vogelbach available off the bench each night. Even then, they had only one at-bat with runners in scoring position in the first 13 innings of the NLDS and went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in such situations from the sixth to the ninth inning of Game 2.
“It’s been a tough series to score runs for both sides,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s two games. It’s 1-1. It’s a two-out-of-three series now.”
Perhaps that changes in Game 3 when they face Ian Anderson, a talented yet lesser pitcher than Morton and Fried. Through two games, however, they haven’t capitalized on the (few) mistakes made by Braves pitchers. If that doesn’t change, they could be playing their final games of the season.
Ron Washington wants to manage the Padres
Ron Washington wants to manage again — and he has his eyes on the San Diego Padres’ opening.
“I think I’m qualified,” Washington said. “I think I can get that team over the hump. That’s my thinking. I need that general manager to think like that. I’m definitely able to get them where they want to go.”
Washington, 69, was a finalist for the Padres’ managerial opening in 2019. He worked with Padres general manager A.J. Preller in Texas, where he managed the Rangers for eight seasons before stepping down in the aftermath of a marital affair, returning to baseball as an infield/third base coach for the Oakland A’s before joining the Braves as third base coach in 2017.
In recent days, multiple Braves officials have praised Washington for his work defensively with the team’s young infielders. General manager Alex Anthopoulos said that “Wash is known for having the guys out early every morning,” with manager Brian Snitker saying that all four are worthy of being in the Gold Glove discussion.
“I love working with Wash,” Riley said. “I think he’d be an awesome manager. Some guys just have that ‘It’ factor and he definitely has it. He can relate to everybody. It doesn’t matter who it is. He’s one of those guys who’s been in the game for so long and has an answer for everything that comes his way. The knowledge he has is unreal.”
Could Pat Murphy be the next Mets’ manager?
With the New York Mets once again searching for a manager, one Brewers official noted that they interviewed Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy three times before hiring Carlos Beltran in 2019’
Of course, the Mets’ front office has been overhauled since then, with Steve Cohen buying the team and Sandy Alderson running the baseball operations department. But after firing Beltran before he managed a game and parting ways with Luis Rojas after only two seasons, the executive believes Murphy “would offer the stability and leadership they need to right the ship.”
The executive’s reasoning is that Murphy plays a major role in the team’s game planning, is advanced in analytics and is known as a leader among players and coaches. It’s unclear if Murphy is on the Mets’ radar, but after the Brewers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, perhaps Murphy should once again be under consideration in New York.