Braves: Which players are hot heading into the postseason?

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The Braves concluded their 2020 regular season by losing three of their last four games as starting pitching struggles again popped up and the offense combined to tally just 13 hits over the final two contests. Sitting the regulars can make for a poor ending to the year, but it’s very necessary (just look at what happened to Chris Martin on Sunday). 

However, as we’re all aware from watching the Nationals run the table in 2019, the MLB playoffs can be an all-out crapshoot. And with this season’s funkiness already making an impact, plus the fact that the postseason field increased by six teams overall, the 2020 postseason will most likely be won by the hottest team in October, not the best team from the 2020 regular season. 

So with that being said, here’s a list of Braves that are performing their best as we enter the postseason when looking at their most-recent stats and big moments:

*For Braves’ hitters, I’m going back to Sept. 13 (a span of two weeks or roughly 14 games). I’ve gone back three starts for starting pitchers, and for relievers, it’s their last five appearances.

 

Braves’ Hitters 

A week ago, you could’ve probably just listed this as Entire Lineup, but save for a few offensive outbreaks, the Braves’ bats have cooled just a tad recently. 

 

Ozzie Albies, 2B

14 G, .327 AVG, .944 OPS, 4 HR, 10 RBI

With six multi-hit games and a three-hit performance back on Sept. 22 against the Marlins, Albies has been on a roll ever since returning from his right wrist bone bruise — an injury that caused the second baseman to miss 29 games (Aug. 5 to Sept. 8). 

https://twitter.com/BitacoraPma/status/1305239678916980738?s=19

 

He had a huge hit exactly two weeks ago (Sept. 13) versus Max Scherzer and the Nationals. With a runner on first and one out in the Braves’ half of the 6th, Albies broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run home run, ending the veteran starter’s night and providing the team with a lead they never relinquished. We missed him while he was gone, but the Braves no. 2 hitter is back and appears primed for a big postseason.

 

Freddie Freeman, 1B

14 G, .367 AVG, 1.214 OPS, 3 HR 10 RBI

In the last two weeks, Freeman has failed to reach base in a game only once (Sept. 19 vs. NYM), going 0 for 5 with four strikeouts — something he hadn’t done all season up until then (though, he did go 0 for 4 with four strikeouts versus the Rays back on July 28th). This has undoubtedly been the first baseman’s best performance as he’s gotten hotter with every turn of the calendar (.856 OPS in July / 1.023 OPS in August / 1.246 OPS in September). 

https://twitter.com/MLBONFOX/status/1309694114993238016?s=19

 

Over the last couple of weeks, Freeman’s most significant moment was easily his walk-off homer in extra-innings against the Red Sox this past Friday night. In fact, as an MVP Moment, it was perhaps the biggest hit of his 2020 season. 

 

Marcell Ozuna, OF

14 G, .377 AVG, 1.153 OPS, 4 HR, 14 RBI

Given his style of hitting throughout his career, it may come as a surprise that Ozuna has just one more strikeout than he has walks during the last two weeks (12 BB / 13 K). Although, this is what the 29-year-old has been doing all season long, wrapping up the 2020 campaign with a .338 AVG thanks to massive improvements to his plate discipline. 

 

Ozuna is seeing the ball better than ever right now, and his latest big moment also came this past weekend against Boston (the same game Freeman won with a walk-off HR). With the Braves down by a run and the bases loaded with two outs in the 8th, Ozuna barreled up a two-run line drive to put Atlanta ahead. The hit was made even sweeter, given he hit a single in almost that exact location in the previous at-bat, showing that he’s much more than simply a power-hitter. I won’t be surprised if we see a few clutch hits from Ozuna during the playoffs.

 

Travis d’Arnaud, C

12 G, .333 AVG, .956 OPS, 2 HR, 8 RBI

I liked the d’Arnaud signing this past offseason (two-year, $16 million contract), but boy, has it worked out even better than I could’ve ever imagined. The 31-year-old has not only been healthy all season, but he has enjoyed career-bests in just about every statistical category, including an end-of-the-year .321 AVG for 2020 (68 points higher than his .253 career mark). 

d’Arnaud’s 2020 season has featured more consistency than big moments, especially over the last few weeks; however, the Braves’ primary catcher had a crucial hit back on September 20th versus reliever Jeurys Familia and the Mets (which was just one night after he did this to his former teammate). With the Braves leading 1-0 in the 8th, and runners on second and third with two outs, d’Arnaud got to Familia again, slapping a double to right field that cleared the bases and gave Atlanta a three-run lead late in the game. Unfortunately, the Mets didn’t make the postseason this season, but perhaps d’Arnaud can beat up another one of his former teams in the Rays if both teams were to meet in the World Series. 

 

Braves’ Pitchers

As you probably guessed, the list of “hot” pitchers below consists mainly of relievers, given collectively, the Braves’ starting rotation has struggled in 2020. Although, you’d be surprised to see who made this list and who didn’t when judging by their last three outings.

 

Kyle Wright, RHP

19 IP, 2-0, 2.37 ERA, 14 K, 6 BB

I never thought we’d see Wright on this list at the end of the season. In fact, I really wasn’t sure if he’d even be on the Braves’ active roster. However, the 24-year-old righty has been tough lately, holding opposing batters to just a .164 AVG in his previous three outings, which all have consisted of at least six innings. 

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1307752968587038720?s=19

 

The September 20th outing versus the Mets was easily the best start of Wright’s 2020 season… and his career. Also, it appears this was the first outing that he began pitching from the first-base side of the rubber. Everything went right for Wright in that one-hitter (six strikeouts), so hopefully, he’ll keep the momentum going when (if) he’s tasked with facing the Reds later this week. 

 

Ian Anderson, RHP

17.1 IP, 1-2, 1.56 ERA, 23 K, 7 BB

Honestly, Anderson hasn’t had a bad outing in 2020. Many may point to his four walks against the Marlins during the first week of September, but when you dig deeper into that start, you’ll find that he actually pitched rather well, save for some problems with his command. Opposing batters have OPS’d just .466 against Anderson during his last three starts, including only two XBH (two doubles) and a strikeout rate surpassing 12 strikeouts per nine. 

 

Hopefully, an indication that the righty is ready to perform in a playoff game soon, Anderson’s career-best start came less than three weeks ago when he struck out nine Nationals and allowed just one hit through seven innings on September 12th. Lasting seven frames has been hard to come by for the Braves in 2020, so if Anderson can provide that sort of an outing, then a first-round exit this year is a lot less likely. 

 

Tyler Matzek, LHP

6.2 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 11 K, 3 BB

Other than starter/reliever Josh Tomlin, Matzek leads the bullpen in innings-pitched, though it’s not just his workload that has benefited the Braves in 2020. His last five appearances have consisted of opposing batters posting a ridiculous .095/.240/.095 slash-line, or two hits allowed in his last 25 batters-faced. 

https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/1290001147412066304?s=19

 

I don’t have any recent footage of Matzek, and only one of his previous five outings featured him entering the game with a Braves’ lead (an appearance in which he picked up the win, pitching the 4th and 5th innings). Still, the clip above shows that nasty slider he’s been dominating batters with. Manager Brian Snitker likes to use Matzek in innings 5-7. Those particular innings will be crucial during the playoffs as the Braves try to keep the score where it’s at until the higher-leverage relievers arrive. 

 

Darren O’Day, RHP

3.2 IP, 1-0, 2.45 ERA, 4 K, 2 BB

Sure, it’s a really small sample to go by as two of O’Day’s last five appearances of the season consisted of him getting just one out for the Braves while pitching no more than an inning in the other three. Although of those combined 15 batters he faced in that stretch, only one recorded a hit… and it was a home run. Mostly deployed from innings 5-7, and usually only asked to get an out or two at a time, O’Day hasn’t really come on in any big spots recently, though he did pick up the win against the Orioles back on September 15th. 

 

A.J. Minter, LHP

5 IP, 0-0, 1.80 ERA, 7 K, 2 BB

Minter allowed a .270 AVG in his final five appearances of the season, including a .794 OPS and 36% line-drive rate, but just because he benefited from a little luck doesn’t mean we should discredit his success. Though he’s not pitching in the role he once was, as one of the more dominant closers in baseball, Minter has settled in nicely as a 7th-inning guy who can also work the 8th when needed. 

 

Will Smith, LHP

4 IP, 0-1, 2.25 ERA, 5 K, 1 BB

It hasn’t been a very good year for Smith, who signed with the Braves through at least 2022 for a guaranteed $40 million. He sports a 4.50 ERA for the season and got tagged with the loss in Sunday’s defeat to the Red Sox (1 ER / 1 HR), but his four appearances before that were strong, featuring just one hit allowed and three scoreless innings. Save for Sunday’s game, Smith has worked mostly high-leverage situations in the 7th and 8th innings, and the Braves will definitely need him sharp come playoff time. 

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