Clutch arms key to Braves' Wild Card sweep

3 things we learned about Atlanta in series win over Cincinnati

October 3rd, 2020

ATLANTA -- It’s not like two postseason games will tell you more than you learned over the course of the 60 regular-season contests that preceded them. But while sweeping the Reds in the National League Wild Card Series, the Braves gave us a better feel for how the remainder of this month might go.

The Braves will open their NL Division Series against the Marlins on Tuesday at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Because Atlanta is the higher seed, it will serve as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) of this best-of-five series.

Here’s a look at what we learned about the Braves during the NL Wild Card Series:

Frontline starters might be present
Given that the Braves' starters went fewer than five innings in 61.7 percent (37 of 60) of their regular-season games, concerns about the club’s rotation were real. But Max Fried and Ian Anderson quieted the doubters by combining for 13 of the record-setting 22 scoreless innings completed against the Reds.

The NLDS’ best-of-five format will provide a greater challenge, especially when you account for the fact that it will be played over five consecutive days. But rotation-depth issues could become irrelevant if Fried and Anderson can extend the success they had in their first career postseason starts.

Yes, the Braves might need a strong start from Kyle Wright or a group of relievers in a bullpen game to win this series. But as Fried scattered six hits over seven scoreless while matching up against top Cy Young Award candidate Trevor Bauer in Game 1, he set the tone for Anderson, who allowed just two hits over six scoreless.

With just seven starts under his belt, it’s too early to know what the future holds for Anderson. But the moxie he showed on Thursday conjured memories of what Steve Avery and Tom Glavine did while evolving from unproven playoff starters to postseason legends in Atlanta.

The bullpen is legit
As good as their starters were, the Braves' bullpen was just as impressive, as it allowed just five hits over nine scoreless innings against the Reds. Enhancing the confidence created by this relief corps was Will Smith, who struck out five of the seven batters faced over 2 1/3 innings.

Smith limited opponents to a .190 batting average during the regular season. But seven of the 11 hits he surrendered were home runs. If he has distanced himself from those frustrations, the Braves might indeed have the game’s best bullpen.

Tyler Matzek might be the least-known member of the Atlanta relief corps, which also features proven veterans Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Darren O’Day. But Matzek actually tied for ninth among MLB relievers with the team-best 0.8 fWAR he produced.

Matzek striking out four batters -- including three straight with runners in scoring position in Game 1 -- will be one of the most memorable events of the NL Wild Card Series. But that wasn’t necessarily a fluke. He struck out 40 percent (28 of 70) of the batters he faced over his final 12 regular-season appearances.

Power is the great elixir
This wasn’t necessarily something we learned as much as it was that we were reminded of how valuable power hitters can be in the postseason. As the Braves went through the first 20 innings of the NL Wild Card Series homerless, we were reminded good pitching often trumps good hitting in October.

But when Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall each hit a two-run homer off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias in the eighth inning of Game 2, we were reminded the Braves do not have a run-of-the-mill offense. This is a group that homered once every 20.14 at-bats during the regular season.

Iglesias allowed a homer to the second batter he faced in the regular season, and he didn't allow another until Ozuna tagged him in Game 2, a span of 95 plate appearances. Three batters later, he served up another to Duvall, who tied for sixth in the Majors this year with 11.9 at-bats per home run. There aren’t too many teams that have that kind of power potential in the sixth spot of their lineup.