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Return of the Ace: Fantastic Friday as Max Fried returns in series opener against Mets

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Both Braves and Mets welcome back needed arms as their playoff pursuits continue.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into this week, the Braves were riding high, winning four of their previous five games by the end of this past weekend, a stretch that included a historic 29 run performance against the Marlins. And then, as we all expected, the offense cooled off a bit and the Braves lost two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles. However, though their performance in Baltimore left a bit to be desired, the Braves have finally had a bit of good luck off the field that hopefully will make the on the field product better once the MLB playoffs arrive.

Cole Hamels returned on Wednesday for his first start of the season. After Miami’s loss yesterday, the Braves hold a three game lead in the NL East, as they have ten games left in their season while the Marlins have 12. Miami has another double header today, and though they will feature rookie phenom Sixto Sanchez in the first game, they will have their work cut out for them facing Patrick Corbin in the second game. Overall this weekend, the Marlins will play five times in three days. It would be nice if the Braves could add to their division lead this weekend before they face the Marlins in a four game series next week to perhaps clinch the division or see things get much more interesting.

However, the biggest news of all is the return of Atlanta’s Ace, Max Fried.

Fried, who landed on the IL with a back injury on September 5th, returns in time to get multiple starts under his belt to once again find his groove that made him a potential Cy Young candidate through August. However, velocity dips and a decline in his overall effectiveness over the last two starts before his injury raised some concerns. Overall, Fried’s ( 6-0, 1.98 ERA/ 2.52 FIP/ 3.80 xFIP) numbers remain among the best in baseball, and he faces a Mets team that he has had good success against. Fried will likely work a few innings tonight with the hope this will be the first of two or three more outings before the playoffs. Barring any setbacks, the Braves have to feel fortunate to see their top arm return before their World Series quest begins.

The Mets will also welcome back a familiar southpaw from injury in the form of Steven Matz. Matz has not pitched since August 29th, a relief outing against the Yankees after he had been reassigned to the bullpen do to struggles earlier this season as a starter. Through 24 innings pitched in 2020, Matz has a 8.63 ERA. However, some of that has been due to short sample size and bad luck, as his xFIP of 4.13 is right in line with career norms. Of course, as mentioned before, you would not know of any struggles Matz may have had if you look at his numbers against the Braves. Over 14 career stats, Matz is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA. Though the Mets eventually lost to the Braves, Matz was on his game against the Braves in his first start of the 2020 season, going six innings and allowing only 1 run. Atlanta’s offense seems to be healthier and better than it was then, but it will still need to take advantage of its opportunities.

Hopefully, the Braves took advantage of another opportunity yesterday. It was their last off day of the regular season as they will have ten straight games to close out the 2020 season. It certainly was needed for the bullpen, as a Braves’ starter has only completed five or more innings three times since Fried last pitched. It also was needed rest for Ronald Acuna Jr., who has struggled since his scary ankle injury last Friday in Washington. Though Atlanta’s offense is playing well, Acuna Jr. remains the most dynamic threat on the team. When he is on, this lineup is among the best in the game.

Hopefully, the Braves will be well-rested and ready to go. They avoid both Jacob deGrom and Seth Lugo in this series, and have the offensive advantage. If they can win this series and the Nationals can have some success against the Marlins this weekend, Atlanta could be celebrating its third straight NL East division title early next week. Hopefully, Fried will ensure the Braves take the first step toward that tonight.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Friday, September 18, 7:10 p.m. EST

Location: Citi Field in New York, New York

TV: Fox Sports Southeast

Streaming: MLB.tv

Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM The Fan, WNNX 100.5, Braves Radio Network