ATLANTA -- A couple of weeks into his unanticipated experience with the Braves, Anibal Sanchez approached general manager Alex Anthopoulous and said his team had a chance to be a winner this year."I always tell Alex, 'Remember what I told you in April,'" Sanchez said. "When I first came to
ATLANTA -- A couple of weeks into his unanticipated experience with the Braves, Anibal Sanchez approached general manager Alex Anthopoulous and said his team had a chance to be a winner this year.
"I always tell Alex, 'Remember what I told you in April,'" Sanchez said. "When I first came to this club and saw how the guys came out of a game and came back the next day, I told him, 'You've got a pretty special team right here. You're going to see at the end of the season what is going to happen.' And there it is."
Nearly six months after this bold prediction was made, the Braves are gearing up for the postseason because of unanticipated contributions from the likes of Sanchez, who tuned up for a playoff start by providing five strong innings in Sunday afternoon's 2-1 win over the Phillies at SunTrust Park.
"[Sanchez] has just been huge," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "What a great story that is. You hear in baseball about trending down and all that kind of stuff. As far as a complete pitcher and just knowing what you're doing and executing pitches, he's pretty good."
When Sanchez was released by the Twins near the end of Spring Training, there was reason to wonder if he'd extend his career. The 34-year-old right-hander had produced a 5.67 ERA over the previous three seasons for the Tigers. But the Braves needed pitching depth and they had no desire to open the season with Scott Kazmir as their fifth starter.
So they gave Sanchez a Minor League deal with the expectation he could serve as a long reliever and possibly fill the rotation's fifth spot, at least until Luiz Gohara was healthy. Nearly the full length of a season later, Gohara is at home dealing with the consequences of a disappointing season and the rejuvenated Sanchez is prepping to pitch in the National League Division Series.
"There's a lot of knowledge there," Snitker said. "The guy knows how to do it. He's been doing it for a long time. He's been successful and he's been a big part of our club."
As the Braves moved toward the division title that was clinched on Saturday, their young pitchers leaned heavily on Sanchez, who has provided value both as a leader and a crafty pitcher. He found himself with a 3.03 ERA through 23 starts after limiting the Phillies to one run over five innings.
Scott Kingery's third-inning solo homer accounted for the only damage incurred by Sanchez, who took the mound knowing he would not pitch more than five innings. A day after clinching, Snitker rested his everyday position players and provided an opportunity for guys like Lane Adams, who doubled home a run in the second and then homered in the fifth against NL Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola.
While Adams' double was his first hit since April 14, Sanchez snapped an 0-for-54 skid that had extended over nearly five full seasons. His third-inning single was his first hit since he doubled off Josh Beckett on April 9, 2014. His teammates responded with a rousing ovation in the dugout.
"They waited for that for so long," Sanchez said. "I'm glad that happened in my last game of the [regular] season at home."
Adams began this season with the Braves and then elected free agency after he was outrighted near the end of April. He spent the next two months in the Cubs' organization and then opted out of that Minor League deal by the end of June. He rejoined Atlanta's organization two weeks later and was brought back to the Majors to serve as a pinch-runner once rosters expanded on Sept. 1.
It has been a crazy journey for Adams, whose double and homer came with his third and fourth at-bats of this month. His speed provides him the advantage, but he may spend this final week battling Adam Duvall for the final postseason roster spot assigned to a position player.
Duvall also doubled in the second off Nola, the only extra-base hit he's recorded while going 5-for-48 since being acquired from the Reds in July.
"Every day, you're always trying to prove yourself that you can play at this level," Adams said. "You do what you can when you play to help the team win. When a team needs you to be a pinch-runner or give somebody a [rest], you go out and do what you can. You're just always trying to prove yourself."
Without ending their respective bids to play in all 162 games, Snitker provided the home crowd a chance to show appreciation for what Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis have done. Both batted in the first inning and then exited after taking the field before the start of the second. After the fans applauded Markakis as he made his way toward the dugout, they did the same as Freeman was replaced.
"All the players deserved it, but they're the two guys that have posted up every day," Snitker said. "They're on a 162-[game] pace and they're our guts. So I thought that was pretty cool they got to get recognized. It was very well deserved."
The Braves will give Sean Newcomb another chance to halt his recent woes when he starts Wednesday against the Mets. But if they feel the need to carry a left-handed starter on the postseason roster, they want options. Thus once Sanchez exited, they handed the ball to Max Fried, who had made just one appearance -- a one-inning relief appearance -- since being recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett at the start of this month.
Fried totaled 35 pitches as he recorded two strikeouts over two scoreless innings. The young southpaw will likely be further stretched out during another long-relief appearance or possible start later this week. If he factors into Atlanta's playoff plans, he could make further preparations in an instructional league game.
Ronald Acuna Jr. will be looking to strengthen his National League Rookie of the Year candidacy and Touki Toussaint will get the start when the Braves open a three-game road series against the Mets on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Noah Syndergaard will start the series opener for New York.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.