Atlanta Braves

Acuna Matata

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Pitchers and catchers report in just a few weeks.

The Major League Baseball season is quickly approaching and it is time to start talking baseball, while the Kansas City Chiefs are in the process of winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

Back to my topic, who the most exciting player in baseball?

That answer is easy to me his name is Ronald Acuna Jr. Is there a more beautiful swing in all of baseball than his? The ball just explodes off his bat.

I have been watching videos of him hitting bombs this offseason in his native Venezuela with the classic bat flip and doing some humanitarian work in a once great country that has been ravaged by a dictator.

The pandemic shortened season of 2020 kept Acuna from chasing the 40-40 HR/Stolen base club. He blasted 14 home runs in just 46 games and 202 plate appearances.

Acuna recorded 40 hits with 25 of them going for extra bases. He battled a nagging wrist injury that hampered him all of last season.  Acuna had an OBP of .406 which is outstanding and walked 38 times in those 202 plate appearances.

The offensive stats are always going to be there with Acuna. The consistency of where he plays in the field has not.

Cristian Pache’s arrival in center field means that Acuna will move permanently to his natural spot of right field, where he can settle in defensively. Acuna has been blessed by the Baseball God’s with a cannon for a right arm.

Back to Acuna and the 40/40 club discussion. Becoming a member of the 40–40 club is an elusive achievement in modern American baseball, as very few players possess both the power to hit 40 home runs and the speed to steal 40 bases in a season.

Generally, a player with the strength to hit 40 home runs will not have nearly the speed necessary to steal 40 bases, and vice versa.

There are only four members of the 40/40 club in the history of baseball:

 

Members of the 40–40 club:

Year/Player/Team/HR/SB

1988    Jose Canseco   Oakland Athletics        42        40

1996    Barry Bonds     San Francisco Giants   42        40

1998    Alex Rodriguez            Seattle Mariners         42        46

2006    Alfonso Soriano           Washington Nationals           46        41

 

In 2019 Acuna barely missed the elite club by belting 41 HR’s and stealing 37 bases. Acuna could be the first player to achieve this milestone more than once in his career.

I actually think in the next 5 years Acuna will be the only man in MLB history to reach the 50/50 club.

The 2021 Braves are good enough to win the World Series. Probably should have beat the Dodgers in 2020 but we will chalk that up to lack of playoff experience.

I do know this, if I’m looking for one player to build a baseball team around it would be Ronald Acuna Jr.

He is a generational talent, and I would not be surprised if he wins the NL MVP in 2021.

The Braves have him signed to a long-term deal, but soon will have to renegotiate that deal to make Acuna one of the highest paid players in the game.

Braves fans, baseball season is almost upon us, and I hope we enjoy the next few years because they have the potential to be special, and Ronald Acuna Jr. will be the best player in baseball during that run.

Heavy Is The Head

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

If there’s a problem with success, it’s the expectation of repeating it. That’s the case in many walks of life, and so it is in Major League Baseball. Winning teams are expected to follow up successful seasons with more successful seasons.

For the Atlanta Braves, who have now won three consecutive National League East Division Championships, they are expected to repeat that feat a fourth time. Especially, given the youth of the team and the starting rotation holes from 2020 that GM Alex Anthopoulos has already taken steps to fill in the guise of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

In fact, the crown likely lies even heavier, given that the Braves went (much) deeper into the playoffs in 2020 than in the previous two seasons, coming within one game of the World Series.

With that on their recent record, Atlanta will be looked at to not just win their division, but to advance to the World Series in 2021 as well.

But there are some teams that would like to stop them and since we often talk about why a team will win, let’s look instead at the four teams that might stop the Braves’ quest to four-peat, in order of least concerning to most concerning.

  1. The Washington Nationals-The crazy thing here, and really about this division in general, is that the Nationals are not a bad team.

They have a top-tier pitching staff that couldn’t stay on the field in 2020, and they won the whole thing just 2 years ago (admittedly with the help of an MVP-caliber Anthony Rendon).

They’re really only one or two good pieces away from being back in the trophy hunt and word is that they’ve been meeting with top free agents like JT Realmuto.

Which brings up to the team he may not be returning to:

  1. The Philadelphia Phillies-They really should have been much, much better in 2019.

They spent tons of money bringing in players to shape their lineup into something intimidating, and then they just…didn’t win.

Bryce Harper was signed and then surrounded by loads of other acquisitions, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.

Now Realmuto, arguably the next-best player on their team and inarguably the best catcher in the game, is a free agent and may walk.

I couldn’t really pinpoint what it is that makes the Phillies not work right now – though certainly their rotation isn’t as good as ¾ of the rest of the division – and neither can they.

But the thing that separates them from the Nats is that they could flip a switch without really making any roster changes and be a huge threat in the division.

  1. The Miami Marlins-The other team from the NL East to make it to the playoffs in 2020, the Marlins starting rotation is young and gifted in a way that only the Braves can even come close to touching in the division.

They leaned on Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara last year, and it served them very well.

There’s no reason to believe that Derek Jeter and the rest of the Marlins brass is going to waste that kind of talent in their primes and a few moves to bolster their lineup could make Miami the toast of the division.

1.The New York Mets-That’s right, the New York Mets. This might seem like a crazy choice for the top threat in the NL East to unseat Atlanta’s three-year stint on the throne, but there are few things scarier than a new owner with a vision and a deep, deep wallet.

They’ve already got Jacob DeGrom, who is one of the best pitchers in baseball and Noah Syndergaard will be back with a vengeance after missing last year due to injury.

New owner Steven Cohen could very well fund new GM Jared Porter to go out and add Trevor Bauer to the rotation too and he could make a lucrative offer to Realmuto, or put together a trade package for Nolan Arenado wherein the Mets absorb his massive contract.

The point is, there’s a new top dog in New York, and that brings the threat of a massive upheaval in an attempt to make a splash and a statement in 2021.

Granted, that doesn’t always work (see #3), but it should be enough to strike at least a little questioning fear in the heart of Braves Country.

Arming Up

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Braves have signed their second veteran starter this offseason, announcing that they’ve agreed to a one-year pact with right-hander Charlie Morton.

The contract will pay Morton a guaranteed $15M for the 2021 season.

Morton joins southpaw Drew Smyly, who inked a one-year deal worth $11M earlier in the offseason, as two new faces who’ll round out the Braves’ rotation behind Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Ian Anderson.

The addition of Morton and Smyly likely pushes Kyle Wright out of the Atlanta rotation, and likely back to Triple A Gwinnett to start the 2021 season.

Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson, Patrick Weigel and Jasseel De La Cruz don’t really have a shot at being part of the rotation going into the 2021 season.

Soroka is still recovering from his season ending Achilles injury may need some extra time to recover, and may not be available to start the season in April.

The Braves have quality arms on the roster and in the farm system they could part ways with some of those arms to build up other areas of the roster.

Morton is 37 years old and a short-term fit but he should bolster the Braves’ rotation.

He’s 47-18 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 in the past four seasons.

The only four starting pitchers in baseball over that span who’ve matched Morton’s ERA, WHIP and K/9 in as many innings are Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Morton has also been a solid in the playoffs something the Braves will need in the short term as this team is a World Series contender.

Morton and Smyly make the Braves the favorites again in the NL East and maybe the National League in 2021. The Dodgers are still the team to beat and the Braves are right there nipping at their heels.

This will be Morton’s second stint with the Braves. The Atlanta Braves selected Morton in the third round with the 95th overall selection of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft.

The Braves added Morton to their 40-man roster on November 20, 2007. Morton made his major league debut on June 14, 2008.

On June 3, 2009, the Braves traded Morton with Gorkys Hernández and Jeff Locke to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Nate McLouth. Any Braves fan remember that trade?

I think adding a veteran like Morton to this rotation makes the Braves a much better team. It is a short-term fix for a team that can win a world championship next season, and a great bargain for $15M.

It is also cheaper than the failed Cole Hamels experiment from 2020 that provided no ROI.

Biggest question now for Atlanta is will the National League adopt the designated hitter rule permanently in 2021 so they can resign Marcell Qzuna?

If they can’t the Braves are going to have to package some of those arms listed above in a package to sign another power hitter to insert in the lineup.

I’m still not sure about third base for the Braves also. I feel like the Braves need to address that position this off season.

With the signing of Morton, the Braves will have one of the top rotations in MLB.

All Smyles

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I’m a sucker for puns. Good puns, bad puns (there are none), doesn’t matter. I love puns.

So, the endless possibilities that sprung to mind when the news broke on Monday that the Atlanta Braves had signed Drew Smyly made me, uh…grin.

In any case, Atlanta signed the left-handed hurler to a one-year, $11 million contract.

Alex Anthopoulos’ second signing of the offseason after bringing back righty Josh Tomlin on a one-year, $1 million deal (to hopefully pitch out of the bullpen, where he’s been very good, only).

It isn’t a massive splash, of course that’s never been Atlanta’s style, regardless of who the general manager is. However, it’s a solid move to begin the process of going after a 4th straight NL East division championship (all due respect to Tomlin).

While eight figures seems like it might be a lot for a guy who certainly didn’t top the list of free agent pitchers (Trevor Bauer is about to make bank, though), Smyly is coming off of what was (or was almost going to be, had he not missed some time to injury) the best season of his career, pitching for the San Francisco Giants.

For a 31-year-old pitcher, that’s a pretty impressive feat and it’s likely owing to the fact that his velocity has somehow actually increased as he’s entered his 30s.

Granted, the 2020 season was an anomaly and Smyly probably had more gas in the tank on the whole (his longest outing was just 5 1/3), but the fact that 2019 was a good run for him and he took further steps the next season speaks to his improvement. It’s likely the combo of the two seasons that put him on Anthopoulos’ radar.

Now, you’re probably thinking that only one start into the 6th inning coupled with a good-but-not-jaw-dropping 3.42 ERA isn’t anything to get excited about, and to be fair, you’re absolutely correct. But this signing isn’t the kind of signing that’s supposed to get you all riled up.

Smyly is essentially going to be expected to play the role of the capable veteran in the rotation, a role that was desperately unfilled in 2020, much in part to Cole Hamels’ inability to get healthy enough to earn that $18 million that Atlanta had to pay him for three innings this year.

In short, this was a move to acquire more depth, and it comes at a position that was horrifically devoid of that, particularly as the year went by.

And to that end, Smyly is a low(ish)-risk, high(ish)-reward signing: the deal is for a single season (which the higher-tier pitchers won’t be looking at this early in the offseason), not for no money but cheaper than the aforementioned Hamels was or plenty of other pitchers will be.

While Smyly is unlikely to be in the Cy Young conversation for next season and there is a history of injury, he’s capable of being a solid hand who can rack up 10+ wins with a sub-4.00 ERA.

Every playoff-hopeful team needs one or two and the Braves had none last year. This is just the kind of piece that could potentially make a difference, especially if the 2021 season goes ahead as planned and they get a full 162-game schedule in (can you imagine if Atlanta had had to play a full complement of games with the rotation they had for most of last year?).

This signing allows Atlanta to devote more resources to either resigning or replacing Marcel Ozuna this offseason and hoping that the big splash in the pitching rotation comes when Mike Soroka fully recovers from his injury towards the beginning of next season.

The Mixer

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I admit two things: the first is that when Josh Donaldson signed with the Minnesota Twins last offseason for a 4-year stint for the exact same yearly salary that he had just made during his one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, I was upset.

He was a bona fide power hitter to protect Freddie Freeman and put up huge numbers in his own right. He took to the Braves clubhouse and the Braves fans like a fish to water, too.

He was enormously productive and enormously popular given the short period of time he was a Brave, Donaldson leaving was a deep cut.

Where would Alex Anthopoulos come up with a replacement for what the Bringer of Rain provided to the team in 2019?

The answer was Marcel Ozuna. Which did not really alleviate the feeling that Anthopoulos screwed up by not offering Donaldson that fourth year (or whatever it was that wasn’t offered).

Ozuna was a talented player, and one the Braves were familiar with from his years playing in Miami, but Donaldson had made such an impact that it seemed like only Donaldson would be able to provide what the Braves needed.

And of course, here’s my second admission: I was very wrong about Marcel Ozuna.

Not only did Ozuna protect Freddie in the lineup, he put up such delirious offensive numbers that pitchers had a Sophie’s choice when it came to their back-to-back spots in the lineup.

And (in part) because of Ozuna lurking in the on-deck circle, Freeman is the likely National League MVP this year. Ozuna may very well finish right behind Freeman in the vote – but he’ll doubtlessly be in the top 5, so good was his season.

And he clearly became just as popular in the clubhouse and with the fans (from afar, of course) as Donaldson had been. His energy was infectious, and without him the Braves wouldn’t have been “Mixing It Up” all season long and deep into the playoffs.

But here’s the catch: like Donaldson, Ozuna was on a one-year, prove-yourself contract.

And, like Donaldson, he’ll have plenty of suitors once the free agent marketplace goes live after the World Series.

In fact, he’ll have more suitors than Donaldson had, due to his younger age and superior (albeit smaller sample) production.

So here we are again, feeling the same way we felt last offseason. It is crucial to resign the guy hitting behind Freddie; that his presence in the lineup and in the clubhouse is irreplaceable.

But there’s an added wrinkle and that’s the designated hitter.

Apart from a few, fairly ugly, stints in left field during the early part of the season and scattered appearances after that, Ozuna was the Braves’ primary DH during 2020.

Each time he played defense; it became clearer that his best position was the batter’s box.

Unfortunately, that may not be an option for him in Atlanta going forward.

Latest reports are saying that the DH, implemented for the first time ever in the National League in 2020, will be dropped from the senior circuit next year and the notion won’t be considered again until the Players’ Union and MLB begin collectively bargaining after the 2021 season.

While I would imagine that the DH for the NL will indeed be included in that CBA, it poses a problem for Anthopoulos’ potential to sign Ozuna.

Do you sign a player to a multi-year contract knowing A) that he’ll be a hindrance to your defense for at least a whole season and B) that the DH coming to the NL is no guarantee, which means he’d be a hindrance to your defense for the entirety of his contract?

I, for one, assumed that the DH was here to stay, and thusly assumed that resigning Ozuna would be a no-brainer and a priority for the Braves Front Office.

However, if the designated hitter is indeed gone next season with no assurance of its return, then I honestly don’t know that Ozuna’s weak defense (and blocking of the other outfield prospects on the depth chart like Drew Waters) would be worth the offense he provides.

It’s hard to say that, because he was so excellent at the plate. Sure, the whole offense was good in 2020 and yes, it could be a simple as moving the lineup around so that an existing player can hit behind Freddie (Albies? A more consistent Riley?), but it was Ozuna’s presence that really made the team a force at the plate.

With this news of a DH-less NL in 2021, the Braves can add another tough decision to their plate this offseason and we’ll all just have to wait and see what they do.

Braves Chief Needs To Remain?

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the sting of a devastating loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series still fresh in the minds of Atlanta Braves fans, it can be easy to get emotional.

Not only is the season now finished, but it ended – in typical Atlanta sports fashion – with seemingly unnecessary extra helpings of heartbreak dished out by the sports gods.

For the 2020 Braves, that came in the fashion of blowing a 3-1 series lead and letting two separate Game 7 leads slip away.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, social media and message boards were flooded with calls for the Braves to fire manager Brian Snitker.

Whether it was complaints about bullpen usage, lineup management or simply frustration over what could have been with just one win over those final three games, there was no shortage of people crying out for a change.

But is that really the best route for the Braves to take? Not if they know what’s good for them.

For all the disappointment of how the 2020 season ended, there wasn’t much Snitker could have done.

In the end, it was simply a matter of two very talented teams taking a series to the bitter end, with room for only one in the World Series.

To look at things from a larger perspective, it’s hard to say that Snitker has been anything but a great asset to the organization as it has undergone a huge turnaround.

Snitker took over in 2016 after a 95-loss season and a last place finish.

Since then, he’s overseen the club as it has won back-to-back-to-back National League East crowns. Aside from the glory days of the 1990s, this is the only Braves team to make the postseason in three consecutive seasons.

Of course, that success is largely due to the overwhelming success in drafting, developing talent and bringing in free agents to plug needed spots.

Those calling for Snitker’s job at the moment will say that – since he’s not in the front office – he had little to do with that progress.

But before taking the helm of the major league club, Snitker served as the Braves’ Triple-A manager.

While much of the team’s current corps of young stars were in the minor leagues, Snitker played a large role in showing them the ropes of professional baseball.

For players like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and plenty of other players who will be counted on to keep up the success for years to come, Snitker has been a major factor in their rise to prominence as MLB stars.

There are times where a managerial shakeup might be necessary in order to get a team over the hump, but this isn’t that moment for the Braves.

As much as the last three postseasons have hurt when they didn’t end in a World Series, Atlanta is still in the unique position of having a veteran team with playoff experience and a handful of key players, who are still in the beginning of their prime.

On top of that, it seems clear that those talented players give Snitker plenty of credit for what has been achieved over the last three years.

The Braves may not have reached the top of the mountain yet, but they show no signs of slowing down, so it’s only fair to keep the same man steering the ship

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers NLCS Preview

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Sure, it took 19 years, but the Braves are going back to the National League Championship Series.

It’s a great, exciting time to be a Braves fan – the offense has (more or less) been as advertised, the bullpen has been even better than advertised, and somehow the starting pitching has been exceptional, despite being the question mark going into the postseason.

They shut down the Reds and the Marlins to win five straight playoff games, and therefore they’ll head into Monday’s NLCS Game 1 with a ton of momentum – but unfortunately, they’re barreling towards the roadblock that is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers were the best team in the National League yet again in 2020 – probably the best team in all of MLB.

This fact has been true for a large majority of the last several years, though it’s not improper (and is entirely fun) to point out that that title has yet to transition over into a World Series win.

Essentially, while Los Angeles is very, very good, they aren’t infallible.

Despite.the name recognition (and track record) the Dodgers’ starters plus the relative unproven status of Atlanta’s;

LA hasn’t pitched as well as the Braves have (to be fair, no one has).

Walker Buehler has pitched well but was pulled after four innings in both of his starts because of a blister on his finger – a good sign for a stellar Braves offense that should be able to feast on a lesser Dodgers’ bullpen.

Kershaw is a more interesting case: His days as the best pitcher on the planet seemed to be behind him before this year, but he came back with some stellar numbers in the regular season.

That being said, his postseason reputation has never been the shiniest – but his first start in the Wild Card Round was an absolute gem: 13 strikeouts over 8 shutout innings; he followed that up with a more-mortal 6 innings against San Diego in the Division Series, giving up 3 runs.

The Braves offensive fortunes may depend on which Clayton Kershaw decides to show up to the ballpark on Monday.

Dave Roberts used David May as an opener in Game 3 against the Padres, but it seems likely that the young, flamethrower will get a more traditional start against Atlanta’s Kyle Wright on Wednesday.

It’s Game 4 when the question marks will really start coming out particularly for the Braves, who don’t have a dependable starter after their first three (and with no off days during the Championship Series, starting Fried on short rest is only an option for Game 5.

In short, the Braves have a big challenge ahead of them – but a poetic one. The Dodgers being Atlanta’s opponent likely sends shivers down the spines of most in Braves Country just based In the previous 3 trips to the playoffs (2013 and 2018); and the 2018 squad is mostly still around.

Betts, of course. In a way, the Dodgers have been haunting Atlanta for more than half a decade, crushing their postseason aspirations.

A victory against LA would be a cathartic one for the team and those that follow it. The only thing potentially sweeter would be if the Braves had faced and defeated St. Louis to get to this point. That being said, if the Braves do take the NLCS, they’d have a chance to bust another ghost in a potential matchup against the Astros, who ended Atlanta’s historic run of 14-straight division titles in first-round defeats in 2004 and 2005).

But one thing at a time.

Braves And Fish

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

So, in a rare moment of fortune for a professional sports team housed in Atlanta, I get to write the following sentence: the Atlanta Braves have won the first round on the 2020 MLB Playoffs and are moving on to face the Miami Marlins in a best-of-five set starting on Tuesday.

The reason it’s such a treat to write that sentence, and the reason it’s momentous despite maybe not seeming worthy of such pomp and circumstance, is because I wasn’t employed by The Southern Sports Edition the last time the Braves made it out of the first round.

In fact, I couldn’t be legally employed pretty much anywhere at the time because I was 13 years old.

That’s right, the Braves snapped a 10-series losing streak when the swept the Cincinnati Reds behind some stellar pitching performances from Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and the entire Atlanta bullpen, which shut the Reds down over 2 games and 22 innings.

But instead of dwelling on the past, let’s instead look to the upcoming Division Series against the all-too-familiar Marlins.

There’s good and bad in facing Miami.

The most obvious good being the Braves’ record against the Fish in 2020 was 6 wins against 4 losses.

Normally Atlanta would play Miami almost twice as much, but even in a much smaller sample size, Atlanta has the edge.

But there’s bad, too. The Miami pitching rotation, and particularly the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara, is very, very good.

With a two-game sweep of the favored Chicago Cubs, only Alcantara and Sanchez have made appearances so far, but both were excellent.

Alcantara allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings, and Sanchez shut the Cubbies out over 5.

They’ll go toe-to-toe with Fried and Anderson, with Kyle Wright likely in the mix for Atlanta.

The parallels are actually pretty fascinating.

Both rotations are young. Anderson and Sanchez are both rookies that debuted halfway through the season.

Lopez and Wright both debuted in 2018 and showed only flashes of what they can do before this season’s more consistent success (Wright’s is a much smaller sample size).

Alcantara and Fried have become their respective teams’ aces despite only solidifying their spots in the rotation last season.

Plus, Fried is the oldest of this sextet at the tender age of 26. That’s a lot of inexperience for a lot pitchers that these two teams are relying on.

The big difference between these two teams and the thing that likely haunts the Marlins’ dreams, is the offense.

The Marlins have one that is serviceable; the Braves have arguably the best bats in the league.

They proved that to Miami, beyond a shadow of a doubt, last month when they hung 29 runs, an NL record, on the Fish.

Granted, that offense was slow to wake up against Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo last week. Scoring just 1 run off of that duo in 13 innings.

They came alive at the end of Game 2 and scored 4 runs in the eighth, which is a bad sign for Miami, but they looked bad enough during the rest of the series to question whether or not they’ve gone cold at the worst possible time.

But speculation is just guesswork, and we’ll get to put that all aside and see what happens.

The Hunt For A Brave October

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Braves won their third straight NL East title and are into the playoffs.

Now this isn’t an unexpected development, as the Braves were the favorites to win the East going into the season, but in practice it took a lot more work than many would have thought. The road to the playoffs was a different route than it maybe should have been.

In any case, the Braves will face off against the seventh seeded team at Truist Park, with ace Max Fried taking the mound, and thank god for that.

Fried, who will be the wily veteran of the team’s postseason rotation with about a year and a half of being a rotation mainstay under his belt, left his last start of the regular season after the first inning because he twisted his ankle fielding a ball.

If you happened to feel a shockwave reverberated anywhere in the Southeastern United States last week, that was the collective gasp/groan/heart palpitations of the entirety of Braves Country.

Mercifully, he was only taken out due to precautionary measures (the Braves had clinched the East already). The Braves Cy Young candidate, the undefeated Fried will prevent Brian Snitker from having to run a rookie with only five career starts out for Game 1 of the playoffs.

That being said, let’s look at the rest of the rotation.

For four innings a week and a half ago, it seemed like Cole Hamels would be taking the mound for a postseason start, but after making his one and only appearance for the Braves this season, Hamels went right back to the Injured List and that was that.

So instead, Ian Anderson is likely to start Game 2. He’s looked great in his short time in Atlanta and there’s nothing inherently concerning about having someone that inexperienced start in a playoff game, but we also can’t pretend that we know what to expect.

And really any concern about Anderson starting is compacted with the fact that Game 3, if necessary, will be started by Kyle Wright. He’s been consistently good for fewer starts (three, to be exact).

One of those two young pitchers would probably not garner much of a second thought as the postseason begins but the fact that the Braves are relying on two such pitchers along with their ace barely being out of his own rookie season and nary a veteran in sight is cause for concern.

Sure, the pitchers all have excellent stuff and are capable of shutting down any other team’s offense but with such small sample sizes, they’re simply still unknown quantities.

Which means Atlanta will be leaning on its historically good offense, its exceptional defense, and it’s excellent bullpen to help them win their first postseason series in nearly two decades and advance deep into the playoffs.

And those elements are all terrific. If Atlanta had made it through 2020 with the rotation they’d hoped for way back in February, they might be unstoppable favorites to win the World Series.

As it stands right now, they’re a team with question marks at the most important place when it comes to the postseason.

MVP

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It seems bonkers to be thinking about and talking about end of the year awards for the Major League Baseball season when not even two months have passed since the first pitch of the season was thrown, but here we are.

The pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign will be over soon and things like Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Gold Gloves, and Silver Sluggers must be given out.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to make a case for a player who should be the National League Most Valuable Player this season: Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Freeman has long been respected as one of the most consistent players in the game, if not the top player at his position.

He’s had All Star appearances, won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but the one thing (other than a World Series ring, of course) missing from his trophy case is an MVP award.

This year, for all its flaws and weirdness, presents the best opportunity for Freddie to fill that spot on the shelf.

As with most seasons, Freeman has hit for average and power, with good RBI numbers as well as a great OPS and WAR (for you sabermetric fans out there).

But it also seems like every year he hovers just under the radar for serious award consideration.

This year seemed to be shaping up much in the same way, but Freeman has gotten incredibly hot, slugging his first two career grand slams, tons of multi-hit games, and a two-homerun game to boot.

In that stretch, his batting average skyrocketed over .330 and his OPS topped 1.000 (a whopping, and league leading, 1.075). He also is the top of the league in RBI’s, driving in runs at a torrid clip.

But the case isn’t just made because of his numbers alone. The Braves, who have been favorites to win the NL East all season, have seen their starting rotation decimated over the course of the season, and Cy Young candidate Max Fried hitting the Injured List could very well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Short of taking the mound himself, Freddie’s offensive explosion has seen him do everything he can to prevent Atlanta from slipping out of first place in the division, as the Philadelphia Phillies have given chase.

Freeman is also a team player. The Braves third hitter for almost his entire career, he responded well to being moved up to the two-hole after leadoff man Ronald Acuna, Jr. was hurt and kept out of the lineup for a few games.

He responded so well that Brian Snitker has kept him there after the young outfielder’s return.

Credit to where it’s due: Freddie always thrives when someone with some thunder hits behind him.

Last season, Freeman was awarded the Silver Slugger after a year of having Josh Donaldson batting in the cleanup spot.

This year Marcel Ozuna has been a revelation, protecting Freddie and giving opposing pitchers a veritable Sophie’s Choice of who to pitch for in any situation.

In fact, for a while there it looked like Ozuna would be the Braves’ most likely MVP candidate.

While Ozuna continued to thrive in Atlanta, Freeman has jumped into the forefront of the conversation both in Atlanta and, I hope, the minds of the MVP voters.

It’s time for Freddie to stop being the bridesmaid and get married. I now pronounce him the NL MVP.

You may win the World Series now.