By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves failed to pull off a major deal to bolster their rotation at baseball’s trade deadline Monday, leaving the NL East leaders with a huge question mark as they seek a third straight division title and an extended run in the postseason for the first time time since 2001.
The only trade made by the Braves came a day earlier, when they acquired journeyman Tommy Milone from the Baltimore Orioles for two players to be named.
Milone was thrown right into the mix by the pitching-starved team — and it didn’t go well. The 33-year-old left-hander was given a 10-1 lead but lasted just 2 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs, two homers and eight hits to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves managed to hang on for a 12-10 victory.
“There’s no doubt things have not panned out the way we hoped,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said on a conference call shortly after the 4 p.m. EDT deadline passed. “We would have loved to add more starting pitching. We had those discussions. Ultimately, we didn’t think there were any deals that made sense to us.”
Max Fried, who was 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA heading into Monday night’s start against the Boston Red Sox, had been the only Braves starter to earn a win until Ian Anderson pitched one-hit ball over six innings in his big league debut last week.
Beyond Fried and Anderson, the Braves have a huge hole in their rotation.
Milone showed some promise in Baltimore, but he’s really nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher who might take some heat off the beleaguered Atlanta bullpen by burning innings.
The other spots will have to be filled from a group of young pitchers who haven’t lived up to their potential (Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson), two veterans who struggled so badly they were sent to the alternate training site (Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb) or a longtime big league stalwart who’s been hampered since the spring by an ailing shoulder (Cole Hamels).
It doesn’t bode well for the Braves ending their record-tying streak of 10 straight postseason round losses, a dismal run of playoff futility that has lasted nearly two decades.
“We still have a lot of upside,” Anthopoulos insisted. “Obviously, there’s some uncertainty. We would have liked to get more certainty. But no one doubts the talent we have here.”
With the postseason expanded to 16 teams in the shortened 60-game season, Anthopoulos said there weren’t a lot of teams willing to give up elite starters without a huge return. The only pitcher he put in that group was Mike Clevenger, who was dealt from Cleveland to San Diego. Lance Lynn was the subject of plenty of trade talk — and certainly would have been a big upgrade for the Braves’ rotation — but he stayed put with the Rangers.
A year ago, Anthopoulos was one of the most aggressive GMs at the deadline, bolstering a struggling bullpen with trades for Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin.
This season, the bullpen is one of Atlanta’s strengths. But nothing beyond Fried (and perhaps Anderson) has panned out for the rotation.
Ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. Hamels, signed to an $18 million, one-year deal, has yet to take the mound. Former AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez was impressive in spring training but decided not to play because of coronavirus concerns. Foltynewicz, an All-Star just two seasons ago, was demoted after one terrible start because of an alarming drop in velocity. Newcomb, a 12-game winner in 2018, went 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA in four starts before he was sent down.
The Braves keep hoping for a breakthrough from Wright, the No. 5 overall pick in 2017, but he is 0-6 with an 8.05 ERA over the last two seasons. It’s a similar story for Toussaint (0-1, 7.89 ERA this season) and Wilson (who struggled in his lone appearance of 2020).
“Those guys have gotten opportunities, and they’re likely to get opportunities again,” Anthopoulos said. “We want to make sure they’re in a good place before we give them the opportunity to come back up here.”
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