MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers won 95 games during the regular season largely because of the strength of their starting rotation and its three All-Stars: Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers had a lower earned run average than the Brewers’s starting staff.
But through two games of this National League division series against Atlanta, no starting pitcher has shined brighter than Max Fried. In fact, since the All-Star break in mid July, no one has been better than Fried — not Max Scherzer of the Dodgers, not Burnes, not Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays.
And in a 3-0 win over the Brewers in Game 2 on Saturday that tied the series at one game apiece, Fried’s dominance continued as he outdueled Woodruff.
Fried, a left-hander, quelled the Brewers over six scoreless innings. He struck out nine, walked none and allowed just three hits thanks to an assortment of 95-mile-per-hour fastballs and darting breaking balls. Dating back to Sept. 19, Fried has allowed just one earned run over 29 innings.
“A big part of what I’ve been doing is just trying to really keep guys off balance,” said Fried, 27, who had a 3.04 E.R.A. over 165 ⅔ regular-season innings. “Before, I would try to miss bats and I would try to be too fine. Now, I’m trying to attack in the zone and get weak contact.”
That change in approach started on July 28, when Fried lost to the Mets, 2-1, despite striking out nine over seven innings. That was the last time Fried was charged with a loss.
From the All-Star break through the end of the regular season, he posted a major-league best 1.74 E.R.A. over 93 innings, including two shutouts. Opponents hit .190 against him in that span, and Atlanta went 11-3 in his starts. Comparatively, Woodruff had a 3.41 E.R.A and the Brewers went 4-8 during the same period.
“A guy that’s been absolutely dominating games that we need to win,” Atlanta reliever Tyler Matzek said of Fried. Added Atlanta Manager Brian Snitker: “He’s been really good for a long time now.”
Just like in Game 1, scoring was scarce on Saturday. Atlanta capitalized on the few mistakes by Woodruff, who had a 2.56 E.R.A. over 179 ⅓ regular-season innings. And even good pitches — a changeup down and out of the strike zone to second baseman Ozzie Albies in the third inning — were hit. “I’m a small guy so I hit low balls a lot,” said Albies, who is 5-8.
After first baseman Freddie Freeman gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the third inning with a run-scoring single, Albies made it 2-0 when he golfed the low pitch for a double. The ball hit the top of the right field fence and bounced back onto the field. Afterward, he did some push-ups.
Sunday “is an off day,” Albies said afterward. “I might work out from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. That ball has to go out.”
In the sixth inning, Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley smacked a solo home run off Woodruff for a 3-0 lead.
“Runs matter in the postseason,” Woodruff said. “You can’t always be perfect.”
Atlanta injected tension into the game after Snitker lifted Fried following six innings and 81 pitches. Snitker said he did so because Fried was still relatively inexperienced and because he had expended so much energy getting through the heart of Milwaukee’s lineup in the sixth inning.
In the seventh inning, reliever Luke Jackson got two outs but then coughed up a single and walk. Matzek, though, saved the day with a strikeout to end the threat. In the next frame, Matzek created his own jam — a walk and a single — and wriggled out of it. Closer Will Smith did the same in the ninth, sending the series back to Atlanta tied.