Well, the 2020 MLB Playoffs are upon us. As baseball finally moves into its Bubble phase, 16 teams are squaring off to determine this year’s World Series champion. While it’s hard to think that there won’t be an asterisk next to the 2020 title, a champion will be crowned.
The MLB is a fickle beast. Star-driven and tank-friendly, teams in the dumpster one year can be the king of the mountain the next. With that, stakes are high for almost every team as they make their playoff run, with sought-after stars often heading for greener pastures if they feel their squad can’t get over the hump.
We’re looking at each of the MLB playoff contenders and diving into what’s at stake for each team, the odds of making a deep run, and key storylines to watch.
Let’s hit the Atlanta Braves, and their chances at securing a ring in 2020.
By most accounts coming into this season, the NL East would be a fairly open race among 4 of the 5 teams (sorry Miami). The Nationals and Braves were frequently the favorites with the Phillies and Mets in the conversation provided they could put successful runs together during the season.
As Opening Day 2.0 approached, the biggest talking point in Atlanta was Freddie Freeman’s battle with, and ultimate recovery from, COVID-19. Thankfully, he was able to suit up for the team – which proved to be a huge factor in their trek to the division title.
That having been said – they’ve had a more difficult time of it to this point, and while they proved to be the class of the NL East, I just don’t see them getting beyond the NLDS given their pitching concerns.
What’s Working for Them: The Bats and the Pen
Remember when I mentioned Freddie Freeman was fighting COVID? Yeah, about that. Once he survived (I don’t use that word lightly) the virus, he went on to put up numbers that once again have him right in the middle of the MVP talks. He’s batting .338 with 12 HR, 51 RBI, and a 1.084 OPS. Then there’s the guy who hits behind him – the guy the team brought in on a one year deal a la Josh Donaldson. Marcell Ozuna, who signed a 1 year, $18M deal back in January, is knocking the cover off the ball. His .327 BA, 17 HR, 53 RBI, and 1.041 OPS are equally impressive.
After those two mashers, you’ve got guys like Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and Adam Duvall in the lineup. Even Travis d’Arnaud has been a big contributor to an offense that has been potent, and resilient in the face of injury over the course of the season.
Additionally, the bullpen has been tremendous for this team. Given all of the problems their rotation encountered, the bullpen has kept this team in games, and also helped win some they may have otherwise lost. Guys like Shane Greene, Mark Melancon, and Josh Tomlin all stepped up when needed, and then some.
What Might Hold Them Back: Starting Pitching
For all of the positives outlined above, the rotation has been a patchwork of arms in 2020. This is where the injury bug REALLY devastated this team. On paper, Atlanta’s rotation looked absolutely stacked ahead of the 2020 Season. Cole Hamels, Mike Soroka, Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, and Max Fried would no doubt have given opposing lineups fits. Of those arms, only Fried has survived. Hamels and Soroka were lost to injury, while Folty and Newcomb were ultimately demoted. After Fried, whose season has him being mentioned in the Cy Young conversation, the starting arms have been inconsistent at best. Ultimately I’m not sure they’ll be able to string together enough quality outings to be able to make a deep run in October.
Storyline to Watch
There are a few to choose from here. In the short term, it’ll be interesting to see how manager Brian Snitker will manage the rotation in a short series. Will it help or hurt the team in the end?
Looking beyond the playoffs – there’s the chase for MVP. Freddie Freeman certainly looks to be the frontrunner for the award, while Marcell Ozuna finds himself on the edge of the conversation as well. And speaking of Ozuna – what will the Braves do with him after the season? Will the club decide to sign him again (and if so, for how long and how much), or will he be Josh Donaldson 2.0 – a one and done contract who left for better opportunities?
All in all, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the 2020 Atlanta Braves!
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