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Freeman, Braves ready for NLDS vs. Cardinals

@mlbbowman
October 1, 2019

NEW YORK -- Instead of worrying about Freddie Freeman's still-cranky elbow, the recent injuries that weakened their bench or whether they have the rotation necessary to make a long October run, the Braves exited Sunday afternoon’s 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Mets eagerly anticipating being energized by their National League

NEW YORK -- Instead of worrying about Freddie Freeman's still-cranky elbow, the recent injuries that weakened their bench or whether they have the rotation necessary to make a long October run, the Braves exited Sunday afternoon’s 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Mets eagerly anticipating being energized by their National League Division Series matchup against the Cardinals.

NLDS presented by Utz, Game 1: Thurs., 5 ET on TBS

Being swept by the Mets was not the way Braves manager Brian Snitker envisioned ending this season. Snitker was hoping to be further energized by the two-homer game Adeiny Hechavarria had against the Mets, who released the shortstop in August to avoid paying him a $1 million bonus. But after Hechavarria hit a game-tying homer in the ninth and a go-ahead homer in the 11th, Dominic Smith created his own memorable season finale with a walk-off three-run shot off Grant Dayton.

Box score

“I wanted to win that game bad, the way the guys hung around and fought back,” Snitker said. “We didn’t make it. But we did everything we needed out of the bullpen and with our starters and everything. The outcomes were not what we wanted. But we accomplished what we needed.”

As the Braves lost five of the seven games played after they clinched a second consecutive NL East title, they took advantage of the chance to evaluate roster decisions and provide rest to key players like Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., who both missed time this week with what Atlanta hopes proves to be manageable ailments.

“I think everybody wishes they had gotten 10 hits in a row and everybody had thrown a shutout going into it,” Freeman said. “But the adrenaline is going to take over. All we’re going to be worried about is who we’re facing on Thursday.”

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3 STL 7, ATL 6 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 4 ATL 3, STL 0 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 6 ATL 3, STL 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 7 STL 5, ATL 4 (10) Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 9 STL 13, ATL 1 Watch

Though the Braves slumbered over the final week of this 97-win season, they still will likely be considered the favorites entering their NLDS against the Cardinals. St. Louis’ inability to clinch the NL Central as early as desired forced NL Cy Young Award candidate Jack Flaherty to start Sunday’s regular-season finale. So now Flaherty will not be available before Friday’s Game 2.

The Braves will host the first two games of the NLDS, which will begin on Thursday. Games times have not yet been announced.

Here are three key developments from this final regular-season series:

1. Freeman’s dilemma

The Braves need a productive Freeman, whose right elbow has been bothered by a bone spur. The four days of rest experienced earlier this week were not a sufficient remedy. But despite continuing to favor the elbow on Saturday night, Freeman returned to the lineup on Sunday to get two more at-bats.

“This is what I was dealt with at this time of the year, which is unfortunate,” Freeman said. “But I feel good enough to play.”

Freeman struck out in the first inning and then promptly exited the game after singling off Noah Syndergaard in the third inning. The All-Star first baseman went 2-for-10 this weekend, and he has totaled one extra-base hit (a double) while hitting .128 (5-for-39) dating back to Sept. 11, which was two days before he first publicly revealed the elbow discomfort.

Freeman has undergone regular treatment and may undergo surgery during the offseason. But for now, he’s just hoping the bone spur proves to be as cooperative as it was while he tallied a career-high 38 homers this year. He has not homered since hitting two on Sept. 1.

2. Final preparations

While Freeman got his final two at-bats, Mike Soroka made his final tuneup for what will be his first career postseason start. Soroka allowed four hits, including J.D. Davis’ two-run shot, during a three-run first and then held the Mets scoreless over the remainder of his five-inning stint.

The Braves have not officially announced their entire rotation, but Dallas Keuchel will start Game 1 and Mike Foltynewicz will start Game 2. This will give Soroka a chance to extend his road success in Game 3 on Sunday.

Even after allowing the Mets three runs over five innings, Soroka finished with a 1.55 ERA in 16 road starts. Dating back to 1969, the only pitchers (minimum 15 starts) to produce a better road ERA were Greg Maddux (1.12 in 1995) and Roger Clemens (1.32 in 2005).

Some of Soroka’s first-inning woes in this outing were a product of trying to do too much while benefiting from four days of extra rest. Now the 22-year-old rookie will focus on harnessing his emotions when he is given the ball for a much bigger matchup against the Cardinals.

“It was almost tough to focus on this outing because that’s the one you’re really thinking about,” Soroka said. “It’s going to feel good again, because it’s going to be one of those first-time things. It’s going to be a focus for me to be able to calm it down like I have most of this year.”

3. Big addition

When the Braves signed Hechavarria after he was released by the Mets last month, they knew he was a sure-handed shortstop whose presence would be valuable until Dansby Swanson returned from the injured list. They certainly didn’t anticipate he would hit four homers and tally a 1.039 OPS over 70 plate appearances with them.

With Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson sidelined, Hechavarria might be the only backup infielder on Atlanta’s NLDS roster. Recognized as being “all glove” throughout his career, the veteran infielder might also be one of the top right-handed pinch-hit options.

“He’s going to be big next week,” Snitker said. “When you have a bat like that off the bench, with all of the injuries, it’s going to be good.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.