The Atlanta Braves’ decision to start Mike Foltynewicz in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday met little resistance.
Foltynewicz had established himself as the Braves’ ace. After years of waiting for him to take up the mantle, the Braves watched the 26-year-old put together an All-Star first half and finish the season tied for fifth in the NL in ERA. Foltynewicz made a strong enough statement that when manager Brian Snitker announced the news Tuesday he felt emboldened, calling Foltynewicz the Braves’ “legit first guy.”
If Foltynewicz resembled anything close to “legit” in his first playoff appearance, the moment came on one pitch in the Braves’ 6-0 loss to the Dodgers.
Foltynewicz blew a 97-mph fastball past the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig to end a first-inning debacle in which he threw 28 pitches. Puig spun around in disgust, clutching the ends of his bat as though he wanted to snap it in half. Foltynewicz hopped off the mound in glee. He’d marooned three Dodgers and given up only one run.
But Foltynewicz could not carry the momentum. Despite getting two quick outs in the second inning, he pitched without ease on the Dodger Stadium mound.
“Just wasn’t my night,” Foltynewicz said.
Foltynewicz hit Joc Pederson with a two-strike slider, lost Justin Turner to a walk on a 97-mph fastball and watched the belt-high heater he mistakenly threw Max Muncy sail over the right-field fence for a three-run homer.
“I’ve been thinking about that all night,” Foltynewicz said.
Flummoxed by the Dodgers’ left-handers, who batted .255 with an .837 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against right-handers this season, Foltynewicz struggled to command his fastball. He lost at-bats despite getting into two-strike counts.
Earlier, Pederson had slammed Foltynewicz’s third pitch of the game, a 98-mph fastball that leaked outside the zone but caught just enough of the plate, for his first leadoff home run of the postseason. Turner roped a double into the left-field corner on the next pitch. Muncy drew a walk.
All this before Foltynewicz could strike out Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal to regain control in the first.
“I mean, we’re lucky he got out of the first inning,” Snitker said.
When it seemed Snitker would leave Foltynewicz in for a third inning — Foltynewicz batted for himself in the bottom of the second because of the limited options on the Braves’ bench — Sean Newcomb trotted out of the Braves’ bullpen for the bottom of the third inning. Newcomb, who came within one strike of no-hitting the Machado-less Dodgers on July 29, stymied the Dodgers in two innings of work. He yielded one hit. Fellow left-hander Max Fried also kept the Dodgers under wraps, relinquishing one single in 11/3 innings.
But the Braves couldn’t climb out of the hole Foltynewicz dug them.
“I think they’ll come back with a little more sense of what we’re in for tomorrow,” Snitker said.
Culberson returns … again
Former Dodgers infielder Charlie Culberson inspired a smattering of applause during the pregame introductions, but otherwise Dodgers fans left their old postseason hero undisturbed.
Like most in Atlanta’s lineup, Culberson was a nonfactor forthe Braves in the series opener. He started a double play on a Machado ground ball in the fifthinning but otherwise got little work.
And he barely made an impact offensively. He had one of the four hits yielded by Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, but was stranded at first base in the fifth inning. He finished one for three, deprived of a fourth turn at the plate by the Braves’ inability to string more than two hits together.
Culberson, starting at shortstop for the injured Dansby Swanson, will get another chance to deliver a meaningful effort Friday.
Why Madson was kept over Stripling?
In the final deliberations over the Dodgers’ first-round roster, the most difficult decision was leaving All-Star pitcher Ross Stripling off the 25-man unit, Roberts said. The debate came down to Stripling against right-handed reliever Dylan Floro, who had a 1.63 earned-run average in 29 appearances with the Dodgers.
Stripling excelled as a starting pitcher in the first half but struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness after the break. Opposing hitters posted a .966 OPS against him in the second half.
The team also included Ryan Madson in their NLDS bullpen, despite his 6.48 ERA in nine outings with the Dodgers. Roberts noted Madson’s ability to generate strikeouts. He fanned 13 of the 36 batters he faced in his brief time as a Dodger.