Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves left spring training with high hopes after three straight NL East titles.
Then star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tore the ACL in his right knee, and it fell on the front office to get underwhelming Atlanta the help it needed.
The Braves hadn’t been above .500 all season when general manager Alex Anthopoulos essentially acquired an entirely new outfield at the trade deadline. Those moves helped Atlanta surge to another NL East crown and a Division Series matchup starting Friday with the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers, who benefited from their own roster adjustments.
“Getting those pieces kind of just gave us that boost of energy to make it,” said Freeman, the Braves’ all-star first baseman and 2020 NL MVP.
Whether it was Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson to the Braves, or Willy Adames to Milwaukee, both clubs had to shake up their fortunes by changing the lineups in order to punch a fourth consecutive playoff ticket.
“Both teams have made additions that have helped their respective teams,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “We started a little bit earlier than most teams in making some of those decisions and some of those acquisitions.”
Milwaukee was below .500 when it acquired shortstop Adames from the Tampa Bay Rays on May 21. The Brewers went 74-44 after his arrival. Adames batted .285 with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and an .886 OPS, leading the team with 3.9 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, despite playing just 99 games after the trade.
“I don’t think I did anything crazy or anything special,” Adames said. “I just come to the field every day just to play the game the right way, just to have fun and enjoy this, because this is what we live for.”
Rowdy Tellez came over from Toronto and provided the Brewers stability at first base. Hunter Strickland, designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels, became a key part of Milwaukee’s bullpen. Eduardo Escobar arrived just before the trade deadline and is one of the Brewers’ top hitters.
The Braves didn’t seem to have any major holes in the lineup until its entire opening day outfield fell apart. Promising rookie centre fielder Cristian Pache struggled and got hurt, left fielder Marcell Ozuna was arrested on assault charges in late May after an altercation with his wife and hasn’t returned and Acuna suffered a season-ending injury in early July.
“We were just treading water all year, kind of playing .500, couple games under .500 all year,” Freeman recalled.
Pederson was the first reinforcement, acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 15. Two weeks later, Anthopoulos added three more outfielders: Duvall, Soler and Eddie Rosario.
Duvall and Soler have been especially productive, with Duvall clubbing 16 homers and Soler adding 14 in 55 games each down the stretch.
That helped Atlanta go 36-19 after the July 31 trade deadline.
“We’ve been mixing and matching all year,” Freeman said. “It’s been an absolute grind. I think that’s what’s so special about it this year is because I felt like we’ve been grinding all year, trying to figure it out.”
Rivals Dodgers, Giants prepare for instant playoff classic
SAN FRANCISCO – Mookie Betts is ready to throw out all the wins his Dodgers and the rival Giants piled up on the way to a frenetic regular-season finish.
San Francisco edged the defending World Series champions by a single game for first place in the NL West, 107 victories to 106 – a total of 213 wins between them.
It’s a new playoff stage now with baseball’s two hottest teams in a best-of-five NL Division Series. Game 1 is Friday night in the Bay Area.
“I think all the 106 games are out the window now. It didn’t help us win the division, so it’s really irrelevant,” Betts said after the Dodgers earned a 3-1 wild-card win over the Cardinals to set up this instant NLDS classic. “We’re in the spot we are now. We’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt. ... Obviously, use what you learned in 106 wins. You just try and apply it to now. Other than that, those 106 are irrelevant.”
And no doubt you can take this rivalry up a notch or two before the first pitch is even thrown, because the Dodgers and Giants are meeting on the big October stage for the first time.
“This series is going to be a mad house at both places,” Giants third baseman Evan Longoria said Thursday.
The storied franchises go way, way back to their memorable New York days.
In 1951 and ‘62 the clubs faced off in a best-of-three NL tiebreaker, with the Giants winning both times.
They were about as even as you can get meeting head-to-head this year: the Giants won the season series 10-9, while the Dodgers outscored San Francisco 80-78.
Los Angeles had won the previous eight division titles.