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Fried Followed by Snow, Rain, Heat, or Gloom of Night

August 16, 2020

Hugh Atkins

First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain,

Then an off day, followed by rain.

Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain,

And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.

During the 1948 pennant race, Gerald Hern, sports editor of the Boston Post, wrote the poem “Spahn and Sain” to emphasize that the Boston Braves had just two reliable starting pitchers–Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain–during the waning days of the National League pennant race.

The 2020 Atlanta Braves are staggering through the current pandemic-shortened season with just one reliable starter. With five-man rotations, there would need to be two additional acts of nature to allow a team to get by with one decent starter.

© T.C.G.

The Braves began the season with a rotation of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, and Mike Foltynewicz. Through 23 games only Fried and Wright remain on the team.

Fried picked up right where he left off last season when he was 17-6. Through five starts he is 3-0 with a miniscule earned run average of 1.24 and has 28 strikeouts in 29 innings. Fried has been fantastic. From there, however, the Braves’ rotation takes a sharp decline.

Foltynewicz made one start, gave up six earned runs in 3 ⅓ innings, and the Braves designated him for assignment. Soroka began the season with two good starts, but ran into trouble against the New York Mets before leaving the game with a season-ending achilles injury.

Newcomb made four starts, went 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA before being banished to whatever passes for the minor leagues these days. That leaves Wright as the only other member of the original rotation still standing. If not for the injury to Soroka and the dismal performances of Foltynewicz and Newcomb, Wright’s 0-3 record and ERA of 7.20 likely would have already cost him his spot in the rotation.

As far as replacements go, Touki Toussaint is 0-1 with a 7.27 ERA, and Huascar Ynoa has an ERA of 8.10. Lefty Robbie Erlin started today, pitched four scoreless innings, gave up one hit with five strikeouts, and no walks, and the Braves’ announcers were talking about him as if he were the second coming of Sidd Finch.

Maybe the poem should go:

First we’ll use Fried, then we’ll use Erlin,

Then an off day, followed by rain, snow, and heat.

Back will come Fried, followed by Erlin,

And followed, we hope, by three days of rain.

That’s not even a poem, and I’m not that confident in Erlin, so the Braves need to find some more starting pitchers.

© Monarch Corona Co.

As far as Spahn and Sain in 1948, Sain was 24-15 with a 2.60 ERA while Spahn was 15-12 with an ERA of 3.71, but they actually had a little more help than Hern’s poem suggests. Vern Bickford was 11-5 with a 3.27 ERA, and Bill Voiselle was 13-13 with a 3.63 ERA. Records like that would get them a big contract these days. Red Barrett made 13 starts and went 7-8 with a 3.65 ERA, so Spahn and Sain were not exactly going it alone.

Hern published his poem on September 14, 1948 when the Braves had 16 games left in the season. From that point on Sain made six starts and went 5-1. Spahn made five starts and went 2-2.

The bigger question may be why manager Billy Southworth started Spahn and Sain twice each in the final six games of the season after the Braves clinched the pennant.

I wonder why Hern didn’t write a poem about that.

(Statistics are from Baseball Reference and Retrosheet.)



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dale permalink
    August 16, 2020 6:07 pm

    The strategy has always been so important in baseball. More so today than ever. Did the Braves win those two games after they had clinched the pennant?


    • August 16, 2020 6:24 pm

      The Braves won the pennant but lost to the Cleveland Indians in the World Series in six games.


  2. August 17, 2020 1:38 am

    In this day and age, gurus would take Bickford’s stats over Spahn’s because apparently ERA has more value than “wins.” I go back and forth on this one and have heard arguments for both sides. While a 3.71 ERA is definitely serviceable, it hardly inspires one to put pen to paper in a poetic manner.


    • August 17, 2020 6:13 am

      And with two syllables, “Bickford” would have thrown off the whole cadence of his poem. I always heard it as, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” although that line isn’t in the poem. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

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