By KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – With the NLDS officially kicking off in just a few hours, two NL East rivals will meet up once again in a best-of-five showdown, with the winner advancing to the Championship Series. For Miami, they’re looking to remain undefeated in Postseason series. Meanwhile for the Braves, while they’ve “advanced” and finally won a series in the Playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, remember, they’re still where they were the last two seasons in the Division Series. So, what will it take for the Braves to inch closer to the Fall Classic? Here’s a few things that need to go right in the coming days…
Starting Pitching: Entering the Wild Card round against Cincinnati, the biggest question mark was around the starting rotation. Max Fried and Ian Anderson were terrific against the Reds, and have seen the Fish a few times here in 2020. Beyond those two, look for Kyle Wright to continue to build on the success he’s had with his heater of late as he takes the mound in Game Three. Then, if a fourth game is necessary, the team could turn to either Bryse Wilson, Huascar Ynoa or even the veteran Josh Tomlin. A lot will depend on how things for the starting staff early on in this series as to how things play out in games four and five, again, if necessary.
Bullpen: To me, the Braves have a clear advantage when it comes to the bullpens. Having multiple options to go more than an inning, righties who can get lefties out, and essentially four guys who could cover the ninth inning if needed puts the team in a great position heading into the series without any days off. During the regular season, the Braves were a perfect 27-0 when leading after six and that’s a big reason why they’re right back atop the division for the third straight year.
Offense: I realize most folks don’t want to relive what happened to the club at the plate during the Division Series with St Louis last year but it’s worth nothing how much more improved this lineup is top to bottom than the one we saw a year ago. Freddie Freeman is healthy, Marcell Ozuna is a fellow MVP candidate, and you’ve got a guy like Austin Riley who can hit the ball 500 feet batting at the bottom of the order. One through five, I’d put this lineup up against any in the game right now. It all comes down to execution, and one area the Braves need to improve upon comes with runners on third and less than two outs. They left way too many men on in those situations this season, and can’t afford to have that come back here in October.
Overall, the Braves are the better team. We all know that. They’re expected to be a World Series contender. The Marlins aren’t. But don’t tell anyone in Don Mattingly’s lineup that they aren’t supposed to be in this position. The Fish have done a great job of building around young, power arms and sprinkling in a handful of veterans to the mix of youngsters like Garrett Cooper and Brian Anderson and have a scrappy lineup that can give anyone these days fits. I say all that to say this: Braves in Four.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.