Last night’s game was a glass case of emotion for Braves’ fans. Winning Game 1 of the World Series, dominating the best team in the American League for nine innings, and stealing home field advantage was tremendous fun. Losing Charlie Morton to a broken leg sucked.
As the news broke, my first concern was for Charlie and his health next year. The team helped alleviate most of that in their official tweet:
RHP Charlie Morton underwent X-rays tonight that revealed a right fibula fracture. He will miss the remainder of the World Series and is expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2022.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) October 27, 2021
With the news that he’s expected to be fully ready for Spring Training next year, the principle concern turned back to this series. How are the Braves going to win this World Series without arguably their best pitcher? How are they going to cover the innings they just lost?
The first step is replacing Morton on the World Series roster. That will happen at some point this morning, and who they choose to take his spot will, at least in part, inform us how they plan on covering Morton’s innings. If they add a starter, like Touki Toussaint or Kyle Muller, then it’s more likely they’re going to try a one-for-one swap. Morton out for Game 5, new starter in. If it’s a reliever they pick, then it’s more likely the Braves might try bullpening both game 4 and 5.
Regardless of who they pick, one thing that probably needs be said is, I’m not sure Charlie getting hurt is the back breaking news that it might appear to be on the surface. The Braves are actually, fine, as weird as it is to say after losing your number one starter. The easiest way to explain is to lay out the potential pitching plans for the rest of the series.
A huge factor in this is that the Braves won Game 1. If they had lost Morton and Game 1, the mood is completely different, as is probably the outlook. But they won. That win is banked. They need just three more wins to finish this thing, which means they can be a little more strategic with how they deploy the rest of their pitching.
For Game 2, it’s very simple. Give the ball to Max Fried and let him go. Hopefully, he can give you 5 or 6 innings tonight and you can finish the game with Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, and Will Smith. AJ Minter is certainly off limits tonight after throwing 42 pitches last night in relief of Morton. But with two days off before this series started and a day off tomorrow, Minter should be the only guy unavailable tonight. Even if Max can only go 4 or 5 innings tonight, guys like Jesse Chavez and Chris Martin should be able to bridge the game to three main guys at the end.
For Game 3, it’s really the same story. Give the ball to Ian Anderson and let him take you as far as he can. Coming out of the off day Thursday, the Braves should have their entire bullpen available for that game, with the only exception being if they want to give Minter an extra day of rest, or if someone has to something extra-ordinary in Game 2. Outside of that, Brian Snitker should a full stable of arms to go to whenever Anderson has reached his limit.
Game 4 is where it starts to get a little tricky, but honestly, not too bad. Since Atlanta only had three dependable starters to begin with, this was always going to be a bullpen game. The Morton injury doesn’t really change the Game 4 plan all that much. The best case scenario is if the Braves can get to this point without having to use AJ Minter in game 2 or 3. If they can do that, Minter can start and, hopefully, go multiple innings. After him, Snitker can use Jesse Chavez, Chris Martin, Dylan Lee and Morton’s replacement to bridge the game to the back-end guys. It’s not perfect, obviously, but, as we’ve seen all postseason, bullpen games are tough to hit against and the Braves should still have a good to chance to win this game. And remember, Game 4 is at home.
Game 5 is where you need your Charlie Morton replacement plan. This is where he would’ve pitched for the last time in the series so this is the game you have to figure out. But let’s be honest, Morton was probably only going 5 innings anyway, 6 innings at the most. This is why I said at the top I didn’t think his injury was as back breaking as it first appeared. The Braves only have to cover an extra 5 or so innings the rest of the series. Not easy, but certainly not impossible.
For this game, I would honestly just start Drew Smyly. I know some of you probably just threw up in your mouth, but Smyly has been pretty reliable since moving to the pen and I trust him more than any other pitcher who could give the Braves multiple innings at this point. Where the series stands will obviously play a role in this decision, but knowing you have Max Fried and Ian Anderson lined up if for games 6 and 7 should allow for some risk here. After Smyly, whoever hasn’t been used a ton helps bridge the game to the high leverage guys. Kyle Wright probably at least gets a look at some point but really, it’s just going to be whoever can pitch. With games 3, 4, and 5 being on consecutive days with no off days, whoever wasn’t used is games 3 and 4 will determine what Snitker has available for the rest of Game 5.
For games 6 and 7 (if necessary) it’s basically just a repeat of games 2 and 3. Fried and Anderson start, you’ll be coming off and off-day so Snitker can most likely use whoever he wants/needs out of the pen to finish out the series and the season.
Losing Morton sucked. I especially hated it for Charlie. But the Braves aren’t in as bad a shape as you might think. Already being up a game helps a lot but if Fried and Anderson can pitch just decent games, the Braves should be able to weather games 4 and 5. Scoring eight runs a game would help too.