If you’re an avid follower of baseball, there really shouldn’t be a doubt about who the NL MVP is. It’s Freddie Freeman. He’s been the best offensive player in baseball over this 60-game season and has all the stats to back it up. However, I can’t speak for Freeman, but I’m almost positive he’d give up the award if he could play the series of his life against the Dodgers and lead his team to the World Series for the first time since 1999.
Freeman has become the best first baseman in baseball in recent years, but he’s been one of the most consistent hitters in the games for even longer. He’s finished with a batting average over .295 in each of the last five seasons, including a .341 mark this year, with a combined OPS of .958 over that span. That’s resulted in four top-eight finishes in the NL MVP race, including two top-five, and hopefully one win (this year). However, the postseason hasn’t been nearly as fruitful, at least not of late.
Freeman’s first playoff appearance came in 2012 — his third season in the league. However, it was just a one-game Wild Card play-in game, which the Braves lost to the Cardinals, but it wasn’t because of Freeman. The then 22-year-old Freeman managed to go 3-4 with one double and a walk in his five plate appearances. The Braves made it to the playoffs again in 2013, facing off with the Dodgers in the NLDS. Freeman had some success in that series, collecting five hits in seventeen at-bats (.313 average), but only one of those knocks went for extra bases, and the Braves would go on to lose in four games.
After that, Freeman had to wait five more years before his next postseason appearance in 2018. Once again, it was against the Dodgers, and the result was the same, a 3-1 series loss in the NLDS. Freeman wasn’t terrible, collecting four hits in sixteen at-bats (.250 average), including the go-ahead homer late in Game 3 that gave the Braves their only win of the series. But it still wasn’t up to his standards, and losing in a rather uncompetitive fashion had to leave a terrible taste in his mouth. However, he’d have another opportunity to redeem himself in just a year’s time.
This time, the Cardinals stood in the Braves way, and for the first time in a while, Atlanta was the clear favorite after winning 97 games in the regular season. Unfortunately, the Braves bats — for the most part — fell asleep, especially Freddie Freeman, who put together potentially his worst postseason to date, going just 4-20 (.200 average) with one double, as Atlanta fell 3-2 in the series.
Now, Freeman did have an excuse. An elbow injury bothered him for most of September. He gutted it out in the playoffs, but it was clear he wasn’t anywhere close to 100%. Freeman eventually ended up having to go under the knife in the offseason, and the doctor actually said he doesn’t know how he was able to even play with the issue. Still, his lack of postseason success, given how consistent he has been throughout his entire career, is staggering.
The Braves finally were able to get the playoff monkey off their back this season, sweeping the Reds in the Wild Card series — their first playoff series win since 2001. — followed by a sweep of the Marlins in the NLDS, sending them to the NLCS for the first time since 2001 as well. While it’s been a dominating performance by the Braves in all facets, Freeman hasn’t exactly been a big part of that.
In five games so far this postseason, Freeman only has three hits (.167 average) and one extra-base hit. However, one of those knocks was a huge one — a walk-off single in the 13th inning in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series. But Braves fans have come to expect more from their first baseman, especially after this year, as he’s vaulted himself from high-level All-Star to MVP frontrunner. Freddie had a few good “get right” at bats against Miami in Game 3, so hopefully that carries over.
The Reds and Marlins are quality teams, but in a typical season without an expanded playoff, there’s a high chance they wouldn’t have even made the postseason. That’s not to take anything away from the Braves. Winning a playoff series is never easy or to be taken for granted, but they will be up against a different beast this week against the Dodgers, who are the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series. If the Braves are going to be the team that upsets them this October, you have to think Freddie Freeman needs to have the series of his life.