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Foltynewicz Outduels Flaherty as Braves Shut Cards out 3-0 in Game 2

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MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Pitcher A: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 SO,

Pitcher B: 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO.

If I told you before Game 2 of the NLDS this afternoon that those would be the pitching lines of today’s starters, you could easily be forgiven for the assumption that Pitcher A would be Jack Flaherty and Pitcher B would be Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. Flaherty pitched like one of the best pitchers in baseball in the second half of the season with almost 200 IP and 5 WAR and has been declared the ace of the Cardinals’ staff. Foltynewicz, on the other hand, started the 2019 season on the injured list with a bone spur in his right elbow. After being activated from the IL on April 27th of this year, he made 11 starts before the Braves actually optioned him to AAA Gwinnett on June 23rd. Foltynewicz had spent considerable time in the Braves’ starting rotation since 2015 and made 31 starts in 2018.

At the point the Braves exercised their last minor league option on Foltynewicz, he had allowed 2.43 HR/9 (with a HR/FB% of just north of 20%) with a 6.15 FIP and 5.26 xFIP. His strand rate was about 10% below league average, but his 7.58/9 strikeout rate was low, and he’s not a ground ball pitcher, all of which evidenced his inability to help himself get out of jams. From the time he returned to the majors to make a start on August 6th through his 10th start on September 28th, his HR/FB % dropped 8 percent and his strand rate was now more than 10% above league average. He also increased his strikeout rate and decreased his walk rate a tad to improve his overall numbers. After his recall to the Braves in August, Foltynewicz pitched into the 7th inning or later for the first time this year and did it 3 times. He was not a bad pitcher, but he was no Jack Flaherty. After all, Flaherty ended the regular season with 19.1 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.

The Cardinals were hoping that Flaherty, their ace, could pitch deep into Game 2 today after the Cards used every reliever in the bullpen in Game 1 except for Genesis Cabrera and Daniel Ponce de Leon. Flaherty did pitch deep into the game, but today, Foltynewicz was Pitcher A and won the pitcher’s duel. Of the Cardinals’ 6 hits, Foltynewicz only allowed 3, and the Cards did not get that 3rd hit off of him until there was 1 out in the 7th inning. Flaherty certainly did not pitch poorly. The Braves capitalized on a couple of pitches he made in the zone. Meanwhile, Foltynewicz kept his pitches mostly out of the wheelhouse of Cardinal batters, and on the occasions where he did leave something over the heart of the plate, the Cardinal hitters could do nothing with it.

While recognizing that the Cards’ hitters could have taken some better at-bats, you have to tip your cap to Foltynewicz. The Braves took a major hit to their bullpen last night when reliever Chris Martin had to leave the game after throwing a couple of warmup pitches and was replaced on the roster by starter Julio Teheran. In addition to making it difficult for Luke Jackson to hurry up and get loose last night, that injury gummed up the Braves’ bullpen plans. What the Braves really needed was a very strong, deep game by their starter this afternoon and they got it.

When the Braves franchise played in Milwaukee, their last postseason appearance was the 1958 World Series, which they lost to the New York Yankees, 4 games to 3. After appearances in the NLCS in 1969 and 1982, the Atlanta Braves became postseason mainstays in 1991, making the playoffs every year there were playoffs from 1991-2005, and also in 5 separate years after that, including this year and last year. Foltynewicz joined Greg Maddux (1996 World Series Game 2) and Tom Glavine (1996 NLCS Game 7) as the only Braves starters since 1958 to pitch 7 or more innings in a postseason game while allowing no walks and no runs.

Foltynewicz struck out 2 Cardinal batters in the top of the 1st. He got Dexter Fowler looking on a slider with a 3-pitch strikeout and struck Paul Goldschmidt out swinging at a slider for the 3rd out. Tommy Edman ripped a liner to right for the 2nd out. To lead off the bottom of the 1st, Ronald Acuna grounded a ball towards the line at 3rd base. Edman fielded it and made a very strong quick throw towards the line at 1st, which Goldschmidt deftly caught in foul territory while stepping on the base for the out. With shortstop Paul DeJong positioned closer to 2nd base, Ozzie Albies sliced a low-and-in fastball near the hole to short. DeJong raced over and tried to make a cross-body throw, but Albies beat it out for a hit. Flaherty’s first pitch to Freddie Freeman was a slider in the dirt. Yadier Molina tried to block it, but it he did not have his glove with the palm up and seemed surprised by the location. The ball bounced off of the top of Molina’s glove and then his right shoulder and scooted away to Molina’s right for a wild pitch to move Albies to 2nd base. Freeman grounded a 3-2 slider to Goldschmidt at 1st, who flipped to Flaherty at 1st base for the 2nd out. Albies moved to 3rd base on the play. Josh Donaldson lined a 2-1 center-cut fastball to left for a base hit to score Albies and give the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Nick Markakis grounded a low fastball for a shot towards the hole near 1st base, but Paul Goldschmidt made a diving stop to end the inning.

After Marcell Ozuna grounded out to 3rd to start the top of the 2nd, Molina grounded an outside slider through the hole to left for a base hit. Kolten Wong struck out swinging at 3 straight off-speed pitches. DeJong sharply grounded an outside slider to Albies at 2nd base. He tried to field it a bit from the side with only the glove hand, and the ball hopped off of the heel of the glove and got away. Albies was charged with an error, with DeJong reaching 1st base safely and Molina advancing to 2nd. But the Cards could not take advantage as Harrison Bader struck out swinging at a slider that was nowhere near the plate to end the inning. With 2 out in the bottom of the 2nd, Dansby Swanson lined a low-and-away fastball past the glove of Wong into center for a base hit. But the pitcher Foltynewicz struck out to strand Swanson there.

Foltynewicz retired the Cards in order in the top of the 3rd on a strikeout of Flaherty and 2 grounders to the right side. After striking out Acuna and Albies to start the bottom of the 3rd, Flaherty walked Freeman on a 3-2 slider. Freeman thought he had a walk on the 3-1 pitch and started trotting to 1st base, but the home plate umpire called Flaherty’s slider a strike on the outside corner. It was no matter, as Donaldson grounded out to 3rd to strand Freeman at 1st base.

After Goldschmidt grounded out to short to lead off the top of the 4th, Ozuna broke his bat on an up-and-in 95-mph fastball and blooped it for a base hit to center. Molina flied out to right. Wong gave a 2-2 low-and-in slider a ride to right field, but Matt Joyce caught it up near the wall for a long out to end the inning. Markakis slapped a low-and-away slider to left for a base hit to lead off the bottom of the 2nd. Joyce grounded a first-pitch low fastball through the middle for a base hit to move Markakis to 3rd. Brian McCann popped an inside fastball up to Edman at 3rd base. With the count 3-2 on Swanson, Joyce ran to try to steal 2nd base. Swanson swung at an inside fastball that was out of the zone and missed for the strikeout. Molina fired to Wong at 2nd base, who initially ran Joyce back toward first base. But he alertly kept an eye on Markakis, who had run too far off of 3rd base toward home plate. Wong turned and fired to 3rd, where Edman tagged Markakis out trying to slide back in to the base. This was officially ruled a double play in the form of a strikeout of Swanson and Markakis being caught stealing home, and the play ended the inning, which would hopefully provide some momentum for the Cardinal club.

But it would not come to pass. Foltynewicz retired the Cards in order in the top of the 5th with 2 strikeouts, and Flaherty returned the favor in the bottom half with a strikeout of his own. It only took 7 pitches for Foltynewicz to retire the Cards in order in the top of the 6th, and Foltynewicz has only thrown 71 pitches by this point. Again, Flaherty responded by setting the Braves down in order in the bottom of the 6th with 3 groundouts. After Ozuna flied out to center to lead off the top of the 7th, Molina poked a low-and-away 0-2 slider to left for a softly lined base hit. This was only the third Cardinal hit of the game. It wouldn’t last, as Wong grounded a center-cut fastball to 2nd for an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

After Flaherty struck Joyce out to start the bottom of the 7th, McCann laced a high fastball to right-center for a base hit. This was the first hit Flaherty had allowed since the 4th inning. Swanson struck out swinging at a slider and the Braves decided to bring in Adam Duvall to pinch hit for Foltynewicz with his only having thrown 81 pitches. Flaherty threw Duvall an up-and-in 3-2 96-mph fastball and Duvall smoked it over the center-field wall for a solo HR at the edge of the spot where the center-field wall meets the left-center field wall. The Braves now had a 3-0 lead.

Acuna sharply grounded a hanging slider for Edman at the 3rd base line, but the ball took a hop and bounced off of Edman’s glove to the sidewall in foul territory. Acuna was credited with a double. Flaherty is still out there at 110 pitches. On pitch #115 to Albies, Flaherty threw a 1-2 slider in the dirt. Molina tried to backhand it instead of opening his glove forward and the ball bounced off of his chest and got away for a wild pitch to move Acuna to 3rd. Albies, however, struck out swinging at a low slider to end the inning. Flaherty has to be finished now after 117 pitches.

Duvall stayed in the game in LF in the #9 spot for the top of the 8th, with Markakis moving from LF to RF. Lefty Max Fried came in to pitch and struck DeJong out swinging at a curveball. After Bader also struck out swinging at a curveball outside the zone, Jose Martinez pinch hit for Flaherty and sliced an outside curveball to right for a base hit. But he was stranded there when Fowler lined a center-cut fastball to right to end the inning. Tyler Webb came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th and retired the Braves in order with 2 strikeouts.

Mark Melancon came out for the 2nd day in a row to pitch the 9th inning. He got behind Edman 3-0, but got Edman to ground a 3-1 inside cutter to 1st base. Goldschmidt lined a low-and-away 1-0 cutter to left-center for a base hit. Ozuna poked a low 1-2 curveball to right for a base hit to move Goldschmidt to 2nd. Would Melancon give up the lead two days in a row? Nope. Molina chased a 1-2 high-and-outside fastball above the zone to strike out for out #2. Wong then struck out swinging at back-to-back curveballs in the dirt to end the game.

Odds and Ends

This was the first shutout win in the postseason by the Braves since Game 2 of the 2001 NLDS when Tom Glavine pitched 8 innings and shut the Houston Astros out in a 1-0 victory. The Braves would go on to sweep that series, but lose the NLCS to the Diamondbacks 4 games to 1. They have not made it past the Division Series since...The Cardinals will have to find more left-handed depth in the minor leagues. LHPs Chasen Shreve and Zac Rosscup, both toiling in AAA, both declared free agency on September 30th. Shreve was the other piece of the Luke Voit trade and was outrighted to AAA Memphis twice this year. Rosscup was a straight cash acquisition from the Dodgers at the trade deadline. Starting the 2019 season on a split contract with the Mariners, Rosscup was DFA’d, claimed by the Blue Jays on outright assignment waivers, and then outrighted to AAA Buffalo by that club. He elected free agency immediately upon being outrighted and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. The Dodgers purchased his contract, but outrighted him to AAA Oklahoma City after he had pitched only 7 games. After his trade to the Cardinals’ organization, he only pitched 8 games before going on the injured list in late August, never to return. Both pitchers had the right to elect free agency immediately upon being outrighted on either of 2 grounds: having 3 or more years of major league service or on the ground of having been outrighted previously in their careers. Having not elected free agency immediately because they wanted to continue to get paid, both players had a window to declare free agency that opened on the first day following the last day of the regular season and would close on October 15th. Both players elected free agency at the earliest possible opportunity after the regular season was over...LHP Tyler Lyons signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for the 2019 season. He had his contract purchased and was then DFA’d and outrighted to AAA Indianapolis after only 4 games, and then was released by the Pirates on August 11th. After signing a minor league deal with the New York Yankees 4 days later and having his contract purchased on September 1st, Lyons has made the Yankees’ ALDS roster along with Luke Voit.