Freeman snaps funk in style with three-hit G3

Snitker: 'Everybody forgot that … he’s the reason we are here right now'

October 20th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- did not join his Braves teammates for an optional workout Monday night at Dodger Stadium. He knew he didn’t need to. Upon taking a look at some video of his 0-for-8 funk, including seven consecutive strikeouts, Freeman determined that nothing looked different than it had “all year and the last 12 years.” So he shied away from the temptation to change things.

A day later, Freeman emerged from his downturn to collect three hits in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday. Though the Braves lost a late three-run lead and fell, 6-5, to the Dodgers in a game that cut their series advantage to 2-1, their first baseman’s mini breakout seemed to portend plenty of production in the back half of this series.

“I just knew that he’s the type of player that can do that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He had a rough couple days, and I think everybody forgot that … he’s the reason we are here right now. So guys go through that. It’s just magnified this time of year.”

The most jarring part of Freeman’s skid was not the 0-for-8 stretch, which happens even to the best hitters with relative regularity, but the fact that he became one of only three players to open a postseason series with seven consecutive strikeouts, according to STATS. During the regular season, Freeman had struck out in just 15.4 percent of his plate appearances, making him one of the hardest Major Leaguers to draw a whiff from. (Freeman ranked 110th out of 132 qualified hitters in that regard, which allowed him to bat .300 for the fifth time in his last six seasons.)

But seven consecutive strikeouts were on Freeman’s ledger to open this series, until he finally snapped the stretch with a deep opposite-field flyout in his final at-bat of Game 2. Two nights later, Freeman opened Game 3 with a single off Dodgers starter Walker Buehler on a pitch out of the strike zone, before producing a nearly identical hit to left in the fourth inning.

And Freeman wasn’t done, lining out to the opposite field later in that four-run frame, singling again to left in the sixth and walking in his final plate appearance in the eighth. According to Statcast data, which splits the field into three distinct zones, Freeman had not collected three opposite-field hits in a game since 2017. He had done so only three times in his career.

“I’d prefer him to do that than hit a home run,” Buehler quipped after the game.

Even if it wasn’t the extra-base damage the Braves often seek from their best pure hitter, Tuesday’s performance nonetheless provided evidence that Freeman will be just fine. Everybody around the team seemed to see it coming ahead of Game 3, given Freeman’s consistency throughout his 12-year big league career. Yet even he acknowledged that the two fruitless games for him personally were “two huge games” for his team. Considering the urgency of October, Freeman didn’t want his skid to continue.

Perhaps at this point it’s already long forgotten. Next up for Freeman is Dodgers lefty Julio Urías, who has served up two home runs to him in 12 career meetings. A third would change his early-series narrative for good.

“If you do this in July or something, nobody even pays any attention to it,” Snitker said. “Freddie is the caliber of player that he’s going to bounce back.”