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How the young arms factor in now and later

PHILADELPHIA — 

The Braves captured the National League East with a remarkable season that was imagined by few. So many things went the Braves’ way that led to the first postseason trip since 2013. In the sixth of a seven-part series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will look back at some of the many highlights of the wonderful journey that captured the imagination of the city.

The story of the 2018 Braves cannot be complete without mention of their plethora of young arms, even if many provided minimal impact.

Touki Toussaint completed his rapid ascension to the majors in August, stifling the Marlins in his first start. His final outing of the regular season came Saturday out of the bullpen, when he struck out the side on 15 pitches.

“That was impressive right there,” manager Brian Snitker said after the game. “As we’re going forward – that was good.”

Max Fried, who broke through a season ago, had a season marked with ups and downs. He finished with a 3.38 ERA while striking out 42 in 32-2/3 innings. 

More in the series

» Winning behind four All-Stars

» Ronald Acuna arrived with a bang

» Early wins provided late-season cushion 
» It all began with a walk-off win

Like Toussaint, Fried might’ve earned his way into the remade bullpen, aided by a signature curveball. His final appearance of the year was a clean inning Sunday in which he struck out a pair of Phillies.

“Maxy has been really good out of the bullpen,” Snitker said. “Real good. That was good to see.”

There were others, though none of whom will have the potential impact of Toussaint and Fried.

Mike Soroka wasn’t long for majors, making five starts but impressing in a small sample size before being shutdown with a shoulder issue. When Soroka debuted in May, that was around the point when general manager Alex Anthopoulos knew his team was for real. Soroka was promoted with the organizational thought that the postseason was a realistic proposition.

After never requiring a disabled list stint in the minors, Soroka endured two in the majors. There was some hope he could help the team in September, but that was always considered optimism.

“It sucked to take a step back there,” Soroka said in July. “A little bit of disbelief because I came off so healthy the first (start off DL). Felt really good in my rehab starts. Just never really was totally out of there from the first time. There was no way to know that. It was just one of those things that happens sometimes.”

Soroka’s success triggered a parade of arms. Kolby Allard debuted July 31, though he appeared in only three games – the team essentially just wanted him to experience a pennant race. He remains one of their higher ranked prospects despite underwhelming initial results.

Bryse Wilson was nails in his first start, tossing six scoreless in Pittsburgh on Aug. 20. He appeared in only three games, with an outside chance at making the postseason roster that never materialized. Like Allard, the organization saw benefit in him observing a pennant race.

Then there was Kyle Wright, last year’s No. 5 overall pick, who was among September callups. He pitched in four games, giving the Braves six innings. Wright impressed in spurts but won’t factor into the team’s postseason plans.

The Braves likely win the National League East without Soroka, Wilson, Allard and Wright. But their promotions were nonetheless a worthy footnote in a season of headlines. Despite the immediate winning, this was still a bridge year in several ways. 

Those names won’t play a part in the postseason, but each has a chance to solidify a major-league role in 2019 because of their flashes during the Braves’ surprising division run. 

Perhaps some of the arms are traded or moved to the bullpen. But entering 2019 spring training, those remaining of Soroka, Toussaint, Fried, Allard, Wright and Wilson presumably could compete for spots in an already crowded rotation.

The offensive fruits of the rebuild are evident; the emphasized pitching aspect is just shining through.

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