'Something special': Braves look ahead to '21

October 19th, 2020

As he dealt with the pain of having suffered a season-ending 4-3 loss to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was already looking forward to the 2021 season.

“This is the start of something special for a long time,” Freeman said. “It hurts right now, it really does. This moment sucks. But the Atlanta Braves organization is set up for success for a long time. This group of guys we had this year, started something special.”

As the Braves prepare to spend next year celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1991 worst-to-first team that suffered an extra-innings loss in Game 7 of the World Series, they have a young nucleus capable of mimicking the prolonged success experienced three decades ago.

That 1991 run marked the first of five times the Braves reached the World Series during the ‘90s.

Thirty years later, and Max Fried are looking to build upon their first successful postseason run, much like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz did beyond the ‘91 Series.

“A lot of our young players grew up a lot these last three months,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m as excited as I can be about the future of this organization and club.”

The baseball world is well aware of the capabilities of 22-year-old Ronald Acuña Jr. and 23-year-old Ozzie Albies, who have helped the Braves win three straight National League East titles.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Austin Riley hit his game-winning ninth-inning homer in Game 1 of the NLCS at the young age of 23.

Acuña, Albies, Riley, Freeman, Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson will return to be part of a lineup that could welcome Marcell Ozuna back if the NL continues to use the DH.

But this postseason actually underscored the potential of the pitching staff more than anything else. Before allowing two runs in the third inning on Sunday night, Anderson worked 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. The only pitchers in the club’s postseason history with longer streaks are Lew Burdette (24 in 1957) and Glavine (18 in ‘95-96).

Anderson shined as he made his first six career starts over the regular season’s final month. Kyle Wright finally showed some promise, too. He finished September with three strong starts and kept the Marlins scoreless in Game 3 of the NL Division Series.

Without Anderson and Wright, the Braves would not have reached the NLCS for the first time since 2001. They spent much of the season’s first month with Fried being the only member of the rotation who seemed fit to be a big league starter.

Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3 and Cole Hamels was healthy enough to make just one start of 3 1/3 innings. Mike Foltynewicz was designated for assignment after his first start, and Sean Newcomb’s attempt to become a starter again resulted in him spending most of the season at the alternate training site.

Now, looking toward the 2021 season, the Braves can be excited about a rotation that will include Fried, Soroka, Anderson, Wright and possibly Bryse Wilson, who took advantage of his own chance to shine when he tossed six strong innings in his postseason debut in Game 4 on Thursday.

“This is a young team that continues to grow and get battle-tested,” Snitker said. “Where we have come in the last three years is amazing to me with our club and organizationally. We’re just going to continue to get better.”