The Atlanta Braves starting rotation was their biggest weakness in 2020. Max Fried was the only consistent starter through the whole year. Other than Ian Anderson, who came up from the alternate site midway through the season, there were not any reliable pitchers. From people already within the organization, like Josh Tomlin, to those they traded for, like Tommy Milone, nobody was successful.
To fix this, Atlanta GM Alex Anthopolous made various moves throughout the offseason to strengthen the rotation. If the Braves want to compete for a World Series in 2021, they need their entire pitching staff to take a step forward and improve.
1. Max Fried
Fried impressed many and was the clear cut ace of Atlanta’s staff in 2020. He was undefeated in the regular season with a 2.25 ERA and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. The 26-year-old has only pitched at that top of the rotation level for one shortened season, so it is still unseen if he can do it over 162 games. Braves fans still remember Mike Foltynewicz making the All-Star team in 2018 and never pitching close to that again. They all hope that Fried is different and will continue to have success in 2021 and for years to come.
2. Mike Soroka
After an All-Star season in 2019, everyone expected Soroka to a star once again in 2020. In his rookie season, he had a 2.68 ERA and went 13-4 to lead Atlanta to the playoffs. After looking sharp at beginning of 2020, Soroka tore his Achilles tendon and was out for the rest of the season. Since then, he has had a successful surgery and is looking to be fully recovered by opening day. Fried emerged as the star of the rotation in 2020 but is unknown if he or Soroka will be the opening day starter next season. If both pitch like the All-Stars they were in the past, Atlanta will have two Cy Young candidates to lead their rotation.
3. Ian Anderson
Anderson is the Braves’ top pitching prospect and made his debut last year. People across the MLB were stunned by the potential he showed when he outdueled Gerrit Cole and nearly no-hit the New York Yankees in his first start. He gave Braves fans confidence in a reliable starter behind Max Fried, which is something no other pitcher had. In five starts, he had a 1.95 ERA, but it is yet to be seen if he can accomplish this over a longer time frame. He was inconsistent in the minor leagues, but hopefully, this changed through the experience he gained playing in the majors last season.
Morton was a part of the 2020 Rays team that made it to the World Series and saw immense postseason success. He went 3-1 with and a 2.70 ERA in the playoffs but was a completely different pitcher in the regular season, where he had a 4.97 ERA. Despite this vast difference, the Braves signed the 37-year-old to a 15 million dollar contract. It will be worth it if Morton pitch like he did in the postseason, but if he repeats the regular season he had last season, he will be heavily criticized and leave Atlanta looking for another starter.
Nobody knows who the fifth starter is going to be. Pitchers like Touki Toussaint and Sean Newcomb were in and out of the rotation and had mixed success. They might work better as bullpen pieces, but could be in and out of the rotation once again next season. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson were horrible in the regular season but were amazing in the postseason. If one of them can replicate their playoff success, they will be guaranteed to be the fifth starter. Additionally, Atlanta signed Drew Smyly who moved between the bullpen and rotation last season for the Giants, so it is unknown where the Braves will put him. At least one of these options will likely pan out and whoever is the most successful will finish out the back end of the rotation, but it is a mystery as to who that will be.
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