Braves third baseman carrying success from regular season into playoffs
ATLANTA -- Chris Johnson's uncanny knack for driving the ball through holes in the defense nearly won him a National League batting title in 2013, and it has translated into postseason play in helping the Braves chip away at the Dodgers' top starters in the first two games of the National League Division Series.
On Friday night, Johnson gave the Braves their first lead of the playoffs, sending a ground ball through the left side of the infield to plate Freddie Freeman and put Los Angeles starter Zack Greinke in a 2-1 hole in the fourth inning. He followed that up in the seventh with a broken-bat single into shallow left field and later came across to score what proved to be the decisive run.
During the regular season, the third baseman was vying for one of the highest batting averages on balls in play in the history of the game before it ultimately dropped down to a mere career-best .394. His two base hits on Friday night were representative of the luck and consistent approach he has employed to hit safely with such frequency over the course of a long year.
"There's not many holes up in the air -- that's one of my mottoes," Johnson said. "If I can hit the ball hard on the ground a couple, three, four times a night, I got a good chance of getting some balls through there, and if I hit it in the air, the defenses in the big leagues, chances are they're going to catch it. I'm just trying to stay on top and stay short."
Johnson, who finished the regular season second only to Freddie Freeman for the team lead in batting average and RBIs with two outs and runners in scoring position, was also responsible for the only run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 when he shot a ground ball up the middle, and he helped crack Greinke with a similar mindset.
Acquired from Arizona in the Braves' blockbuster trade for Justin Upton, Johnson's offensive production in Atlanta has been a revelation. His midseason success from the No. 8 hole in the batting order left manager Fredi Gonzalez debating whether to move him higher in the Braves' high-octane order to get more plate appearances or to keep him hitting eighth to help turn the lineup over.
After forcing his way toward the middle of the lineup down the stretch, Johnson's propensity to come through with quality at-bats in key situations has carried over into the first two postseason games of his five-year career, and he has ridden the confidence of a breakout season into each high-stakes plate appearance so far.
"I'm just trying to come up big in those spots," Johnson said. "If you come up with two outs and runners in scoring position, those are really big hits, so hopefully, it keeps happening."