Despite clinching an NL East title for the third season in a row, which has featured a first-place standing for the majority of the 2020 campaign, I’m sure Braves’ manager Brian Snitker is relieved the regular season is just about over. For a season shortened by over 60%, there sure has been a lot of hurdles to clear for the 64-year-old skipper, and in his fourth full season at the helm, 2020 has perhaps been his best year yet.
The list is long, in terms of the disasters Snitker has been forced to manage through. And in no particular order, check out just how much has gone wrong this year (without even counting the global pandemic that already completely altered the sport):
“The Mike Soroka Injury”: tears his Achilles tendon during his third start of the season (Aug. 3). The Braves’ ace pitcher is gone just 11 games into the 2020 campaign.
Cole Hamels’ injury issues: hurts shoulder in February, misses spring and the start of the season. Then suffers tricep tendinitis just as MLB and MLBPA agree on the 2020 season. Hamels doesn’t debut until Sept. 16, but he makes just one start before being shut down before his second outing.
Ronald Acuna’s injuries: hurts his wrist just after a ten-game stint (Aug. 1-10) in which he slashes 364/.488/.818 with four homers and nine RBI. Once back, he plays five consecutive games before hurting his ankle, resulting in a three-game absence. Altogether Acuna misses 13 games, effectively removing himself from the NL MVP race.
Ozzie Albies’ injury: hurts wrist and winds up missing 29 games and most of August.
Freeman’s COVID infection and slow start: catches the coronavirus in July and deals with a 104.5-degree fever, before beginning the 2020 season with a 15-game slump that features just a .200 AVG and two home runs.
Folty and Newk struggle: both combined for a 13.70 ERA through 5 outings to start the year, before being demoted to Gwinnett (Folty’s last start came on July 27th, while Newk’s was Aug. 10th).
Tommy Milone doesn’t catch on: acquired at the trade deadline to provide rotation depth, Milone winds up posting a 14.90 ERA after three starts as a Brave before being moved to the IL on Sept. 10.
Ender Inciarte’s continued struggles: has hit just .214 (.566 OPS) through 42 games this season.
Johan Camargo’s continued struggles: has hit just .200 (.611 OPS) with 4 HR in 35 games before being sent to Gwinnett.
For the Braves to be headed to the playoffs as the NL’s no. 2 seed, sporting a .607 winning percentage, says a lot about the team’s resilience. Although, things could be a lot worse if not for the always-cool Snitker. In terms of setting up the team and putting players where they need to succeed, there’s very little to complain about.
Think about how in recent seasons, Snitker was always just a little too slow when it came to making the appropriate adjustments. Whether it was finally leaving Acuna at the lead-off spot in the lineup or taking away innings from a struggling Luke Jackson, Snitker was hesitant to make the move.
That hasn’t been the case in 2020.
When it was clear Dansby Swanson was hot at the plate earlier this season, Snitker quickly moved him up from seventh to the no. 2 spot once Albies went down with his injury just weeks into the campaign. And even though Swanson batted just .167 during that seven-game stretch hitting second, given he was carrying a .911 OPS at the time, the move was certainly warranted.
And then there’s Snitker’s willingness to move first baseman Freddie Freeman up to second in the lineup — something the Braves’ skipper would’ve never dared to do just a season ago (Freeman had batted third in every one of his games dating back to 2016). Since those initial six-straight games in the no. 2 hole (Aug. 16-18, 21-23), primarily to allow a hot-hitting Travis d’Arnaud to move up a few spots, Snitker has hit Freeman second 16 times now, including each of the last 14 — a span in which the Braves have gone 10-4.
And those are just a couple of small tweaks made to the lineup — only a very small portion of Snitker’s daily duties.
Bullpen management still isn’t an exact science yet, and though it’s inevitable that a manager will make a few questionable decisions with his relievers from time to time. But all-in-all Snitker has stuck with a rather consistent game plan. Save for Josh Tomlin (who has made a handful of starts in 2020), it’s Tyler Matzek — currently the bullpen’s hottest arm — that has racked up the most innings this season out of the ‘pen, which is exactly the way it should be. Also, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, A.J. Minter, Matzek, and Will Smith (in that order) have received the lion’s share of high-leverage innings, and all except for Smith are seemingly having career-best seasons. It may seem like common sense, but more often than not, Snitker is leaning on the right guys at the right time, something he sometimes struggled with in the past.
Regardless of your thoughts on the Braves’ skipper, Snitker deserves to be applauded just as much as the players this season, and there’s plenty more I could detail than simply a 1,000-word post on a couple of lineup and bullpen maneuvers. As I shared earlier this month, with 352 career wins, Snitker is creeping up on both Casey Stengel (373 wins) and Lurn Harris (379) for eighth and seventh, respectively, on the Braves’ all-time wins list for managers, and he’s just within shouting distance of fifth-ranked Fredi Gonzalez (432).
We probably won’t hear anything regarding Snitker’s future with the Braves until the playoffs are over, but if he’s included in the organization’s long-term plans, it’s a real possibility that he finishes his career as one of the five best managers in team history, not to mention he still has a realistic shot at 500 wins if his health cooperates throughout his 60s.
But we’ll just stick with the present for now, and as things stand going into Thursday, Braves Country should feel really good about where the team currently sits. And though some of us hate to admit it, the man managing the team deserves a ton of the credit.