Over the weekend, the Atlanta Braves locked down the NL East, clinching the division after beating the San Francisco Giants 8-1 on Saturday. We knew the Braves would be good this year, and they’ve proven all season long that they’ve got what it takes to make the postseason. So what obstacles stand in their way as we head toward October? Here are some challenges and strengths of this Braves team now that we know we’ll be seeing them (and who they’ll be facing) in the playoffs.
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Strengths of the Atlanta Braves
Let’s start with the good stuff. Last week, Ronald Acuna Jr. set records with his 40th home run. As the Braves beat the Phillies on Thursday, Acuna became the third player under 21 in MLB history to hit 40 homers in a season. Lucky for his team, he’s going strong as they wrap up their last few games, and he might just break one more record before it’s over. Acuna only needs three more stolen bases to reach a 40/40 season, something that hasn’t been done in over 10 years. If he can do it, he would join the ranks of only four other MLB players, including the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
It’s not just Acuna who is starting down records. The Braves have two other players on the roster who could manage a 40-homer season in their last few games: Freddie Freeman sits at 38 and Josh Donaldson at 37. However, as with Acuna, it is likely the Braves will choose to rest these guys to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Braves are hoping to see Ender Inciarte back to face the Kansas City Royals this week. He’s strong in both the outfield and the batter’s box. Putting him back in centerfield likely means that Acuna will move to right field.
Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson sat out with a heel injury this season and has struggled at the plate since his return. He hasn’t hit a home run since July and his batting average has dropped drastically. Although the Braves have a strong lineup without him, they’re going to need everyone to start producing as they face top pitchers and heavy hitters in the playoffs. After losing their last regular season home game on Sunday 1-4, we saw the need for more offensive firepower as the batters collectively struggled to get into gear.
The Braves’ starting rotation is also having a hard time on the mound lately, with key pitchers like Max Fried and Julio Teheran looking less than impressive. There were also concerns that the Braves’ top two starters weren’t able to last longer than five innings, but Dallas Keuchel managed six in Sunday’s game, allowing only two earned runs. He will likely remain their game one starter, while Mike Soroka will pitch game two. Mike Foltynewicz has been looking promising as well.
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Perhaps the most nerve-racking issue for the Braves (and fans) right now is the potential health of Freddie Freeman. The star first baseman left Sunday’s game with elbow pain and will miss the team’s trip to Kansas City. It is believed to be a bone spur that typically feels better after some days off, and they think he’ll be well enough to rejoin the team in New York to face the Mets on Friday.
Who will the Braves face in the playoffs?
Atlanta will be a number-two seed heading into the playoffs, and that means they’ll take on the winner of the NL Central Division. If the season ended Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals would be their opponent in the NLDS. The Cards clinched a Wild Card spot after a tough battle with the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs, but it isn’t over just yet. (Although it basically is, as the Cardinals have a 95.1% chance of winning their division.) The good news for the Braves is that, over the season, they’ve beaten the Cardinals 4-2, outscoring them 29-27 and winning a couple of those games in St. Louis.
Historically, there’s a bit of bad blood between Braves fans and Cardinals fans as it relates to the postseason. Back in 2012, Atlanta fans lost it over an umpire’s infield fly call that effectively ended a rally by the Braves. (It also happened to be during their beloved Chipper Jones’s last game.) Expect this matchup to be dubbed the “Infield Fly” Series and definitely expect a lot of replays of that historic moment.
The Braves take on the Royals this week before their final three games against the Mets this weekend. Get tickets to these remaining regular season games or shop tickets to see some playoff action!
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