One amazing thing about the postseason in baseball that makes it more unique than any other sport is that the magic can come from anyone in the lineup. Each October, someone comes out of nowhere to galvanize his team to a World Series title. Last year, it was Howie Kendrick who came up with the Grand Slam in Game 7 of the NLCS to lead the Nationals over the Dodgers. Then he did it again in Game 7 of the World Series, delivering the go-ahead homer late in the game that eventually led to a 6-2 victory.
The 36-year-old veteran was an under the radar pickup in 2017 when the Nats traded for him, and he wound up making the difference two years later. You can find a guy like Kendrick each October. That’s the beauty of baseball. So here are a few guys on the Braves that we all know, but who may not be recognized nationally, that could make the difference this postseason.
Matzek doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done this year. He’s logged the most innings out of the Braves’ bullpen (29) and recorded a 2.79 ERA while striking out 43 batters (13.3 K/9). His FIP (1.92) even shows that he’s suffered from a bit of poor luck, so there’s a chance he’s even more productive in October. The former first-round pick has revitalized his career in Atlanta, and given the Braves’ rotation issues, he should be used a ton in the playoffs.
Swanson is obviously a household name to Braves’ fans. However, if you’re not an avid college baseball fan outside of Braves’ Country, you probably don’t know how much he’s improved over the last couple of seasons, or how clutch he is late in games. In late and close game situations this season, Swanson has a ridiculous slash line of .500/.529/.875, which is good for a 1.404 OPS in 34 plate appearances. When the game is on the line, he is the guy the Braves want at the plate.
Duvall has cooled down since his scorching hot start to September, but he showed us last year that he’s not shy of the big moment, coming up with clutch hit after clutch hit in the NLDS against the Cardinals. Now, he enters this postseason as a full-time starter, and if the Braves are going to make a deep run, you have to think there will be at least a couple of long balls coming off of his bat.
The baseball world has been introduced to Max Fried over the last couple of seasons. However, not many fans outside of Atlanta are probably aware of just how dominant rookie Ian Anderson has been in the first six starts of his career. Mike Soroka didn’t flinch last season in his first taste of playoff baseball, and Atlanta will need the same from Anderson if they want to make a run at a World Series.
If Fried and Anderson pitch like Cy Young candidates throughout the playoffs, perhaps the Braves can advance without figuring out a true #3 starter. However, Wright has come alive over his last three outings of the season, and he’s earned the right to be the third starter heading into the postseason. If his hot streak continues in the playoffs, he could become a hero that not even Braves’ fans could have predicted.
Austin Riley and Adam Duvall are very similar in terms of what they bring to the plate. Neither of them hit for much average, but they can both change the game with one swing of the bat. Riley has made some incredible strides in his second season, and we’ve seen what he can do when he gets hot. Perhaps he will provide a little magic in his first taste of playoff baseball.
d’Arnaud just finished the best regular season of his career, hitting .321 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in just 44 games. He’s as confident as anyone with the stick and has come through in plenty of clutch situations for the Braves. Opposing pitchers may spend too much time focused on Atlanta’s stars — like Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Marcell Ozuna — and wind up making a mistake to d’Arnaud, who has the ability to take full advantage.