With the fewest regular season wins among this year’s pool of playoff teams, and a pretty overwhelming portion of the industry picking against them during the NLDS, the Braves will more than likely head into this year’s National League Championship Series as an underdog… no matter who the opponent is.
The Braves kicked off its playoff run by mostly smothering the Brewers offense. And thanks to some stingy work by its starters, an even stingier stretch of play by the bullpen, and of course, some timely hitting by the lineup, the team won three straight to take the series, outscoring Milwaukee during that stretch 11-4. That kind of dominance requires a few players to get hot, and so as the Braves wait for its next battle in the upcoming NLCS, let’s take a look at who’s trending in the right direction performance-wise. Here are Atlanta’s current hot performers heading into Saturday’s NLCS opener.
Freddie Freeman (1B)
4 G, .308 AVG, 1.086 OPS, HR, 2B, 2 RBI
We’ll start with the obvious one here, given Freeman literally advanced the Braves to the next round with his go-ahead eighth-inning homer on Tuesday as part of a three-hit performance. As you can probably surmise from his numbers above, essentially all of Freddie’s damage came during that Game 4 win (leading up to Tuesday’s contest, the Atlanta first baseman was just 1 for 8 during the playoffs). As usual, the team will need a hot-hitting Freeman in its quest for an NL title.
Austin Riley (3B)
4 G, .333 AVG, .908 OPS, HR, RBI
Where Freeman pretty much compiled all of his postseason production during his heroic performance on Tuesday, Riley has been a bit more consistent, tallying a hit in each of the Braves four games so far. This is the second postseason for Riley, who mostly struggled in the Atlanta lineup last year, hitting just .178 in 12 playoff games. The 2021 campaign has been huge for him, and it appears his strong hitting will continue to carry over into the playoffs.
Adam Duvall (OF)
4 G, .286 AVG, .804 OPS, 3B
Duvall began the NLDS hitless in his first seven at-bats but has managed to go 4 for 7 over his last two games, including a triple during Monday’s Game 3. The 33-year-old has never really gotten hot in the postseason during his career, although he’s only participated two other times besides this year. Given his above-average power, and his streakiness sometimes, I feel like Duvall could go off under the right conditions. Maybe that will happen in this next series.
Joc Pederson (OF)
4 G, .429 AVG, 1.714 OPS, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Of those four games, Pederson only started one — producing literally all of his postseason numbers so far as a pinch-hitter. This guy has been huge for this team, and his three-run homer in Game 3 was exactly what Atlanta needed to put the pressure on Milwaukee. I’ve already shared my opinion on Pederson, but now that Jorge Soler is out for at least the first few games of the League Series, Joc should be in the starting lineup every day going forward.
Charlie Morton (RHP)
2 starts, 3.86 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
The 37-year-old Morton has put together several big postseason starts over his long career, but his nine-strikeout gem in Game 1 of the NLDS last Thursday was right up there with some of his greats. A two-run homer by the Brewers Rowdy Tellez at the tail-end of his outing that night spoiled a potential win, but the dominant performance by Morton seemed to of set the pace for the Braves starters over the next two games. The seasoned veteran started on short rest in Game 4, and though he perhaps wasn’t at his very best, Morton worked into the fourth inning and limited the damage, giving the Atlanta offense a chance during a back and forth game. Short rest doesn’t seem to effect this guy, and his postseason experience will continue to be valuable in the next round.
Max Fried (LHP)
1 start, 6 IP, 3 H, 9 K
Immediately following Morton’s strong showing in Game 1, Fried pitched even better in Game 2 — this time getting the win for the Braves. The line above for the 27-year-old was the best postseason performance of his young career, and it was a crucial turning point in the series as the team needed to avoid a two-game hole heading into Game 3 in Atlanta. I know Pederson’s pinch-hit homer in Game 3 was huge, and of course, so was Freeman’s go-ahead dinger in Game 4, but Fried’s incredible start in that second game was just as significant towards the Braves eventual advancement from the NLDS.
Ian Anderson (RHP)
1 start, 5 IP, 3 H, 6 K
Anderson’s Game 3 outing gave the Braves three consecutive strong performances by its starting pitchers for the NLDS, which was huge, especially given it was the Brewers rotation that was supposed to steal the show in the Division Series. Even though it was only Anderson’s fifth career start in the playoffs, the young righty had already shown he was plenty capable back in 2020 when he combined for 17 strikeouts in 11.2 innings in a pair of starts during both the Wild Card and Division Series round. The 23-year-old is a bonafide starter in the majors already, but its the invaluable playoff experience he’s gaining, and doing well with, that’s the most impressive to me.
The entire Braves bullpen
14.2 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 7 BB, 19 K
The Braves bullpen combined to post a 1.26 ERA during the NLDS versus the Brewers, and that ERA sat at zero until the final game, when manager Brian Snitker was forced to open up the ‘pen in the fourth inning. Just consider the Atlanta relievers that have worked the playoffs thus far but haven’t allowed a single run yet…
The trio of Jackson, Matzek and Smith were utilized in nearly every single game during the Division Series, and their dominance was huge in keeping the Brewers offense from coming up with the big play at the end of the game. Tuesday’s Game 4 was the only contest in which Atlanta’s relievers allowed runs, and even then, those runs came while Huascar Ynoa was on the mound, who wasn’t part of the regular relief core during the first three games of the series.
If the Braves bullpen can maintain at least some of its dominance during the upcoming NLCS, the team’s chances of advancing increase drastically.
Thanks for reading about which Braves are hot heading into the NLCS. If you liked this piece, check out Clint’s latest article on why Joc Pederson should be re-signed.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire