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How they got there: ATL's 1st NLCS since '01

@mlbbowman
October 12, 2020

Though they have continued to show their might of their offense, the Braves have been strengthened by the unexpected dominance of their pitching staff, which has produced a shutout in four of the team's first five games in the postseason. Now, as Atlanta prepares for its first National League Championship

Though they have continued to show their might of their offense, the Braves have been strengthened by the unexpected dominance of their pitching staff, which has produced a shutout in four of the team's first five games in the postseason. Now, as Atlanta prepares for its first National League Championship Series since 2001, here’s a look at how it got here.

How they were built:

Amateur Draft: RHP Ian Anderson, 1B Freddie Freeman, LHP A.J. Minter, 3B Austin Riley, RHP Jacob Webb, RHP Bryse Wilson, RHP Kyle Wright

International signings: OF Ronald Acuña Jr., 2B Ozzie Albies, OF Cristian Pache

Free agents: C Travis d’Arnaud, C Tyler Flowers, OF Nick Markakis, LHP Tyler Matzek, DH/OF Marcell Ozuna, 3B Pablo Sandoval, LHP Will Smith, RHP Josh Tomlin

Trades: OF Adam Duvall, LHP Max Fried, RHP Shane Greene, OF Ender Inciarte, RHP Chris Martin, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Darren O’Day, SS Dansby Swanson, RHP Huascar Ynoa

Waivers: LHP Grant Dayton

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Postseason standout: Travis d’Arnaud

In addition to pairing with the pitching staff that has produced a zero in 46 of the postseason’s first 49 innings, d’Arnaud has gone 8-for-19 with two doubles, two homers and a 1.342 OPS. He totaled four extra-base hits over 10 at-bats against the Marlins, leading him to be named the best player in the NL Division Series.

October surprise: Ian Anderson

Anderson impressed through the first six starts of his career in the regular season, but nobody expected him to tally 17 strikeouts and complete 11 2/3 scoreless innings through his first two postseason starts. Anderson stands with former Braves starter Steve Avery as the only pitchers in MLB history to record at least eight strikeouts and complete five-plus scoreless innings in each of his first two playoff starts.

Memorable playoff moment: Freddie Freeman’s walk-off

Freeman got the Braves moving in the right direction when his single ended the epic 1-0, 13-inning win over the Reds in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series on Sept. 30. This four-hour, 39-minute pitching duel created history, as it marked the first time two teams remained scoreless through the first 11 innings of a postseason game. Freeman’s walk-off single against lefty Amir Garrett scored Pache, the Braves' top prospect who entered as a pinch-runner in his first career playoff game.

Key offseason acquisition: Marcell Ozuna

This year’s addition of the designated hitter to NL lineups has enhanced the value gained from Ozuna, who has more than capably filled the middle-of-the-order void created when Donaldson signed with the Twins. Ozuna’s power boosted the contributions of top NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate Freeman, who benefited from hitting between Ozuna and Acuña.

Managerial decision: Revamped top of lineup

When Albies returned from a month-long stint on the injured list, Braves manager Brian Snitker opted to move Freeman back to the No. 2 hole, a lineup spot he first inhabited in late August. Albies returned on the same day Atlanta tallied 29 runs against the Marlins, so it wasn’t like the lineup was going to change. But the decision to put Acuña, Freeman and Ozuna back-to-back-to-back gave the Braves arguably the game’s best top of the lineup.

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Defining season stretch

When the Braves suffered a fourth straight loss on Aug. 14 in Miami, they were two games back in the NL East race. After winning seven of their next nine, they owned a two-game lead. That nine-game stretch concluded with a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees. The opener of the twin bill featured Acuña hitting a leadoff homer against Gerrit Cole and Anderson making an impressive six-inning MLB debut.

Breakout player: Adam Duvall

Duvall was a non-tender candidate after the 2018 season, and he spent much of '19 at the Minor League level. But the former All-Star has proven to be one of the game’s top power hitters this year. He became the first player in franchise history to have two three-homer games, and he did so within eight days in a very memorable September.

Calling card: Blistering bats, blowout bullpen

Though the Braves’ rotation has been a problem throughout the season, their high-powered offense has consistently given a deep and strong bullpen the chance to prove it is indeed one of the game’s best relief corps. When looking at what has occurred in the seventh inning or later, Atlanta ranks near the top of the league in both offensive OPS and bullpen ERA.

Memorable moment: The night of 29 runs

When you set an NL modern-era record by scoring 29 runs like the Braves did in their Sept. 9 win over the Marlins, the entire event becomes a memorable moment. Albies came off the IL to homer during an 11-run second inning and Freeman homered to account for his 1,500th career hit. But the top highlight was Duvall completing his second three-homer game within a span of eight days.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.