Saturday, December 5, 2020

Uncustomed Heroes of 2020: Braves

After 4 games, the Atlanta Braves had a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, and were inches away from taking out the Dodgers and advancing to the World Series...and then the Dodgers showed up.

The heartbreaking end to this season shouldn't define the Braves, as they as a unit had one of their best seasons in years, overcoming issues that had hampered them in the past, and bringing some truly fun performances to the forefront.

Despite an injury limiting him to only 29 games this year, Ozzie Albies still had a decent enough year, batting .271 with 19 RBIs and 6 homers, better numbers than Ender Inciarte could muster in 46 games. Albies was also sharp in the postseason, with 13 hits, 4 RBIs and 2 homers. Clearly still a big part of this Braves core.

2021 Prediction: Back to full health and full production. Will have a 200-hit year with 75 RBIs. 

Another comeback: after opting out of the season before summer camp, Nick Markakis suddenly got the bug, and wanted to play baseball this year. So he made the call to Brian Snikter, and for 37 games, Kakes was back in Atlanta. His numbers weren't terrific, as he only hit .254 with 33 hits and 15 RBIs, but he still had 8 postseason hits. This may not have been the starriest final season for Markakis, who's been with the Braves since 2015, but it was still a fine note to end his consistent Braves years on.

2021 Prediction: A goodwill one-year deal will allow Markakis one more full season of production before he retires at the end of the 2021 season.

After being the rookie of last June, Austin Riley had a second act prepared for 2020, but it was a little one-sided. Riley batted .239 with 19 RBIs and 8 home runs this year, another hint that maybe he's not gonna be the most well-rounded player on the team. At the very least, he had 4 RBIs, including a home run, in the postseason.

2021 Prediction: Will lose the starting third base gig halfway through the season and be relied upon as a bench bat into the playoffs. 

In a season where Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels and Tommy Milone succumbed to injuries, the depth of the starting rotation was one of the minor issues the Braves had to face. Kyle Wright was a sturdy solution, as he overcame a rocky start to become one of the more reliable starters in Atlanta this year. He truly came into his own in September, where he posted a 3.91 ERA, 2 wins and 18 strikeouts. He had one great postseason start in the NLDS and one truly terrible postseason start in the NLCS.

2021 Prediction: He finds the strike zone and doesn't look back, getting an ASG nod and some Cy Young votes.

One of the members of the 2019 trade deadline bullpen-packing squad, Shane Greene stayed away from the closing gig thanks to Mark Melancon, but still was mighty fine in relief, with a 2.60 ERA and 21 Ks in 27 innings. 

2021 Prediction: Whoever signs him does so with the full intention of making him the closer, and he rewards them with 35 saves. 

Tyler Matzek was the true comeback player of the Braves this year. After coming up as a starter in Colorado, then losing a few years to injuries, Matzek bopped around the independent leagues and the minors before the Braves took a chance on him. 2020 was the reward for that, as Matzek had a 2.79 ERA in 29 innings, with a scorching 43 strikeouts. He also got through the postseason with 14 Ks and only one earned run. 

2021 Prediction: Matzek's work in long relief will make the Braves flirt with giving him a rotation spot. However, the majority of his appearances in 2021 will be in relief, and they will be similar to this year's numbers.

Two seasons after being one of the few non-snakebitten relief options for the Braves, A.J. Minter struck back, only allowing 2 earned runs in 22 appearances, making for a minuscule .83 ERA. For this, Minter held the highest ERA in the bullpen.

2021 Prediction: Lower numbers, but will still be a part of the postseason squad. 

In the category of players who made their biggest impacts late in the season, Pablo Sandoval came to the team in a waiver deal, thanks to the Giants prioritizing Mauricio Dubon. People signing Panda now kinda know what they get- he's not who he used to be, but he still gives you some pop. He didn't get any hits at all this season, but it was nice to have him here for the sole purpose of seeing the Giants great on the Braves.

2021 Prediction: If anyone signs him, it'll be to a minor league deal, and he'll make a limited impact on the season. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention that Philadelphia icon Cole Hamels pitched in Atlanta this year. Yes, he only did so for one game amidst an injury-shortened year, but he's still a former All-Star and pitching giant who did play this year, even if it wasn't for much. He lasted 3.1 innings in his sole game of the season, and posted an 8.10 ERA. But he still wanted to be out there, and he still tried.

2021 Prediction: A return to form pitching for a non-competitor, and by the postseason, a trade will send him back home to Philly.

Bryse Wilson had a few starts during the regular season, but it was his postseason work that caught people's attention. In Game 4, he went mano e mano against one of the greatest pitchers in the game, Clayton Kershaw, and came out victorious, going six innings and only allowing one run, with 5 strikeouts to boot. He didn't have much else of note this season, but it definitely got people thinking about what he could do in a longer season.

2021 Prediction: He'll lose a spot in the rotation thanks to a tricky April, but will gain it back and stick with it come August.

And then there's the new rookie of note in Atlanta, Cristian Pache, who had 4 at-bats in the regular season but came alive in the postseason thanks to his skillful outfield play and his 4 RBIs in the NLCS. The Andruw Jones comparisons were heard far and wide, but something about this 21-year old intrigues me in a full season. 

2021 Prediction: NL Rookie of the Year.

Coming Tomorrow- They made the postseason by the skin of their teeth, and even if they were out of it a day or so later, they still had some intriguing stories to tell. 

1 comment:

  1. Guess I should start digging through my stacks of Bowman cards to see if I have any Pache cards.