Note: this post is part four of a week-long series highlighting the rooting interest of each of the four teams in MLB’s League Championship Series. ICYMI: The Case for Tampa Bay | The Case for Houston | The Case for L.A.
They’re the three-time defending N.L. East champions. They’re the team of the 90s, and if they can reach the World Series, they’re ready to party like it’s 1999. They rode one of the most prolific offenses in the game to reach the first NLCS in their past nine tries, despite losing all but one starting pitcher from their preseason roster to injury, opt-out or ineffectiveness. They’re the Atlanta Braves, and they may or may not have been recently cursed by Drew Franklin.
After years of repeated NLDS flameouts, Atlanta made short work of Cincinnati and Miami this year to earn a matchup with the heavily favored Dodgers. But through two games this week, their postseason record remained spotless. That didn’t last long on Wednesday. But they bounced back in a big way yesterday and now find themselves one win away from the Fall Classic. Get ready to #MixitUp, folks: this is the Case for the Braves.
1. Freddie Freakin’ Freeman
Perhaps the most underappreciated superstar in baseball over the past decade resides in the peach state, and his name is Freddie Freeman. When he came up as a rookie in 2010, at the tail end of the Chipper Jones era in Atlanta, it looked like the talented first baseman would be a fixture on Braves’ playoff runs for years to come. But then Jones retired, and after the Braves fell to the Dodgers in the 2013 NLDS, they sold the whole team for prospects… everyone except for Freeman.
What followed was a long five-year rebuild before they sniffed another winning season, and all the while, Freeman did nothing but mash. In those five years, he hit .297 with 121 home runs, 404 RBIs and 22.6 accumulated WAR. He made two All-Star games, won a gold glove and finished in the top six of N.L MVP voting twice. Freeman was so good—and his team was so bad—that when Matt Adams had a strong showing as his injury replacement for two months in 2017, he came back and volunteered to play third base so Adams could stay on the field (I swear this is true).
Since the new-era Braves made their return to the postseason in 2018 (another loss to the Dodgers), Freeman has only gotten better. He hit a career-high 38 homers in 2019, and then, after recovering from a case of COVID-19 that made him fear for his life this summer, he had the best year of his career—and is the presumptive favorite to win his first MVP trophy.
I could write all day about the reasons I love Freddie Freeman, but I’ll leave it at that. You can come to your own conclusions.
2. The Bromañce
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun and uber-talented duo in baseball today than Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The two young international signees (from Venezuela and Curacao, respectively) already have 141 career home runs between them and they’re both under 24.
They have all the talent in the world, but they’re also the best of buds, and they do things that best buds do on a nearly daily basis (I also highly recommend this mic’d up video from last year’s spring training). It only takes a few minutes of watching this duo on the field together to see how much joy they get from the game, and even less time if you follow the banter under teammate Dansby Swanson’s Instagram posts.
Both Acuña and Albies are under contract through at least 2025 at a ridiculous value, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon, the time is now.
3. Rookie Ball
When I say this Braves team is young, I mean they are practically still in diapers. Outside of Freeman, DH Marcell Ozuna and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, every member of last night’s lineup was 26 years old or younger; and then there’s the pitching staff. So far this postseason, the Braves have started Max Fried (26), Ian Anderson (22), Kyle Wright (24) and Bryse Wilson (22). This is largely the product of the aforementioned injuries, but it makes their sudden success all the more impressive.
Speaking of that success: Anderson, Wright and Wilson are all rookies, as is Cristian Pache, the 21-year-old center fielder who was forced into action this week after the injury to Adam Duvall. Against the Marlins, Anderson and Wright became the first pair of rookie teammates with back-to-back scoreless starts in franchise history; and in his playoff debut last night, all Wilson did was out-duel Clayton Kershaw through six innings of one-run, one-hit ball. Meanwhile, Pache, the Braves No. 1 prospect, became the youngest player to start in center field in the LCS or World Series since another Braves import from Curacao, Andruw Jones, back in 1999.
At the risk of repeating one of the most overused clichés in sports, the future is in good hands in Atlanta.
BONUS POINTS: You may have seen closer Mark Melancon gain internet fame for catching Albies’ home runs in the bullpen in back-to-back games this week. But did you know he also runs his own turf company?