There is no other sports organization on the planet that means more to me than the Atlanta Braves. This despite the fact, I’ve live in Kansas/Missouri my entire life. I have Ted Turner to thank for my fandom. (I grew up watching the Braves on TBS.)
The week ahead is going to be tough for me. Living in Missouri, I’m definitely in Cardinals country. I have dozens of friends who like the Cardinals. I have one friend who likes the Braves. I’m a little outnumbered…
With that said, I want to have some fun with this series. It’s fun to smack talk, but at the end of the day, this is a game.
So for all my Cardinals friends, here is a very quick primer for you to better understand the team you’ll be facing in the National League Division Series…
The Braves went 97-65 this year. It was the 2nd-best record in the National League, and the team’s best record since 2003 when then won 101 games. (Honestly, their record could have been even better, but they rested most of their players during the final week of the season, losing 5 of their last 6.) They ranked 3rd in the National League in runs scored (855) and were middle of the pack in runs allowed (743).
The Braves’ offense is extremy top-heavy. Their 1-4 hitters make an argument for being the best in the league:
1- Ronald Acuna, Jr
Last season’s Rookie of the Year, and an All-Star this season… Acuna barely missed becoming the 5th player in Major League history to record 40 HR/40 Steals. He finished 41/37. His led the entire league in runs scored and stolen bases. Unfortunately, he also was 2nd in the league in strikeouts.
2- Ozzie Albies
Albies is a switch-hitting second basemen who will likely win a Gold Glove this season. At the plate, he’s very solid. He led the NL in hits with 189. He’s a much better hitter against left-handed pitching, which is fortunate for the Cardinals predominately right-handed staff.
3- Freddie Freeman
One of the most consistent players in baseball. Already a 4-time all-star, Freeman is in the prime of his career. From a statistical standpoint, Freeman was the 9th-best hitter in the National League this season.
NOTE: Freeman is dealing with bone spurs in his elbow. He’s going to play no matter what, but I’m concerned about him being at full-strength.
4- Josh Donaldson
Donaldson was the American League MVP in 2015 while playing for the Blue Jays. He’s now 33 and was coming off an injury-plagued 2018. After a slow start this season, he’s been terrific since June — hitting 30 of his 37 home runs over the final 4 months of the season.
5-8 – It is what it is
Expect multiple players to play the corner outfield spots (Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce, Adam Duvall) and catcher position (Brian McCann, Tyler Flowers) with Dansby Swanson anchoring shortstop. The order of this group could change daily based on who’s hot. As a Braves fan, I’m just hoping for solid production.
Expect the Braves to use a 3-man rotation in the NLDS, backed by a much improved bullpen.
Game 1 Starter – Dallas Keuchel
The 2015 Cy Young winner with the Houston Astros didn’t start pitching until June this year. (He remained a free agent until after the MLB draft due to some crazy baseball rules.) Keuchel is not the award-winning pitcher of yesteryear. He’s a soft-tossing lefty that induces soft contact. He helped the Astros win a World Series in 2017 and is a smart choice for Game 1.
Game 2 Starter – Mike Foltynewicz
“Folty” was an All-Start last year. Then he seemingly forgot how to pitch this year. In fact, he was so bad he god demoted to the minors for several weeks. Fortunately, he figured things out. Since being called up again in August, he’s gone 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA. He’s got the best “stuff” of any pitcher on the team. When he’s on, he’s an absolute force of nature. (Side note – he’s one of the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. It’s truly an automatic out when he steps to the plate.)
Game 3 Starter – Mike Soroka
Soroka has easily been the best Braves pitcher for the entirity of the season, going 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA (3rd-best in the NL.) So why is he pitching 3rd… he’s only a ROOKIE. He’s already thrown more innings than he’s ever thrown before, and he’s never pitched in a game like this before. With that said, Soroka’s one of the most mature pitchers I’ve ever seen. I believe he’ll thrive in his moment.
At one point this season, the Braves had the worst bullpen in the league. However, they made this their focus at the trade deadline and turned a weakness into a strength. The three right-handed relievers they acquired are now their top bullpen arms: Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon.
Additionally, from the left side they have Sean Newcombe, who converted from a starting pitcher earlier this season. Max Fried was a starter for the team all season, but will pitch out of the bullpen this series and be used frequently
I expect these 5 pitchers to get the vast majority of innings if the Braves are ahead. They are the easily the best arms on the team.
I hope this made you more informed and will help you enjoy the series more. It’s going to be fun!