PHILADELPHIA -- While there was certainly something to play for, Freddie Freeman knew whatever happened during this weekend's series against the Phillies would be long forgotten once the Braves enter the National League Division Series later this week.After concluding the regular season with Sunday afternoon's 3-1 loss to the Phillies
PHILADELPHIA -- While there was certainly something to play for, Freddie Freeman knew whatever happened during this weekend's series against the Phillies would be long forgotten once the Braves enter the National League Division Series later this week.
After concluding the regular season with Sunday afternoon's 3-1 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, the Braves began mentally preparing to hit the road to begin the postseason against the Dodgers.
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"I don't have a [preference] one way or the other," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I'm just glad we're going to be playing somewhere Thursday. They're both very good teams. It's not like one is weaker than the other."
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Having been subdued by the greatness of Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola during this road trip, the Braves entered this regular-season finale knowing securing home-field advantage for the first round was a long shot. They had to win and both the Dodgers and Rockies would have had to have lost on Sunday.
As the Dodgers rolled toward their 15-0 win over the Giants, and the Rockies blasted toward a 12-0 victory over the Nationals, Snitker took advantage of the chance to rest many of his regulars and create auditions for some of his postseason bullpen candidates.
"Believe me, we all wanted to be at home," Freeman said. "No matter what happens during the [regular season], you want to be in front of your home fans during the playoffs. Hopefully, we'll get a lot of games at home for them during the playoffs."
The Braves' ascent toward the playoffs was aided by the July 31 acquisition of Kevin Gausman, who produced a 2.87 ERA in the 10 starts made for Atlanta. But the veteran hurler's final tuneup before what will be his first postseason start was far from sharp.
Making his first start since Sept. 20, Gausman showed some rust as he surrendered Cesar Hernandez's leadoff homer and Jose Bautista's single within his first two pitches. Carlos Santana's sacrifice fly added to the lead the Phillies gained with their two-run first inning.
"I just kind of grooved that first pitch in there, thinking [Hernandez] wasn't going to be swinging," Gausman said. "It was right down the middle. When you do that, you're usually not going to get the ball back. I settled in and thought I did a pretty good job of getting out of some stuff early in the game. I definitely wasn't as sharp as I have been."
Gausman issued consecutive walks to begin the third inning and allowed two hits in the fifth, including Rhys Hoskins' RBI double. But he limited his damage to three runs (two earned) over five innings.
As the Braves evaluate how to construct their NLDS rotation, they have the option to use Gausman on regular rest for Game 2 or with two extra days of rest for Game 3. The veteran hurler produced a 4.90 ERA in the six starts made (excluding his season debut) this year with more than one extra day of rest.
"He started off like he had been off for 10 days and then he picked it up as he went, and everything got sharper," Snitker said. "That was exactly what we wanted. The game got carried away from him before he got settled in. But I liked how he picked up velocity. He was sharper and sharper as he went."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Braves evaluated Sean Newcomb as a reliever when the left-handed starter retired two of the three batters faced in the sixth inning. In the process, they provided reason to believe Julio Teheran will fill the final spot within a four-man NLDS rotation that will also include Mike Foltynewicz, Anibal Sanchez and Gausman.
While there's a chance the Braves could carry Newcomb as a reliever, it's much more likely they reserve a spot in their bullpen for Max Fried, who struck out two during a perfect seventh inning. Fried has allowed three hits, issued two walks and recorded seven strikeouts while working four scoreless innings over his past three relief appearances.
"That ability to spin the ball with [Fried] is big," Snitker said. "The relief appearances I've seen, he looks really comfortable and good in it. He really attacks the hitters. He's maybe a good piece."
Nick Markakis became just the fifth Braves player to start 162 games since the National League instituted a 162-game season in 1962. The others: Felix Millan (1969), Andruw Jones ('99), Jeff Francoeur (2006 and '07) and Freeman ('14).
"That's an unbelievable testament to how he goes about it," Snitker said. "I've talked to him multiple times about taking a day, and he always says, 'This is what I train for.' He's a remarkable player. I feel blessed I've been able to manage him."
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Ronald Acuna Jr.'s third-inning RBI double accounted for the only hit and run surrendered over three innings by Ranger Suarez, who was making his third career start and second appearance since Aug. 16. Acuna also added to his highlight reel when he raced toward the left-field corner and made a leaping grab of Santana's long drive before crashing into the wall to end the fifth.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.